A multi-faced earthquake and tsunami response

  • Nov. 9, 2012 10:00 a.m.

Submitted by Shirley Bond–BC’s Minister of Justice–The 7.7 magnitude earthquake near Haida Gwaii serves as a reminder to all of us just how important it is to be prepared for emergencies. In the days since this event, a number of questions and concerns have come forward around how and when communities received tsunami information from the B.C. government. We have a robust and multi-faceted emergency management system in B.C., one that is recognized globally for its efficiency and effectiveness. While much of the public and media focus has been on social media, it’s critical to remember that it is just one part of what is a comprehensive notification system. I know that last weekend, in response to the earthquake, the system worked well at the local-authority level and our operational team at Emergency Management BC (EMBC) responded quickly and worked diligently to keep the public informed. This is not to suggest there aren’t aspects of the response that can’t be done better. On Saturday, as is the case when any earthquake happens and there is the potential a tsunami may impact British Columbia’s coast, the first official notification came within minutes from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre (WCATWC) in Palmer, Alaska. The WCATWC sent this notification to EMBC as well as to the many local governments, agencies, media and individuals who are registered with the WCATWC notification system. As is appropriate, many local authorities began acting as soon as they received this initial notification. As the next step to further increase awareness of this notification, EMBC staff then began using a variety of tools to relay this critical emergency information to local governments, media and key stakeholders. In fact, within 12 minutes the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) began directly calling provincial emergency management staff and local authorities in the impacted regions. Local authorities are the first responders in B.C.’s communities and are required by legislation to have emergency plans in place that include procedures for relaying critical emergency information to residents and visitors. The initial tsunami notification from the ECC also went to senior levels of government, representatives from the military and Public Safety Canada, RCMP, utilities and BC Ambulance. Last weekend, we saw the leadership of local authorities up and down the Coast as they activated their emergency action plans. One of the other majors tools government uses to contact British Columbians directly is the Provincial Emergency Notification System (PENS). This was added in 2006 as part of our earthquake and tsunami response plan and uses technology to systematically send tsunami notifications via phone, fax and email to thousands of first responders, local governments and the media. Our government will do everything we can to notify as many people as possible. Our first priority is to contact first responders and those who will lead the local emergency response, and then to let them take over and decide how best to contact the citizens of their communities. The staff behind our @EmergencyInfoBC Twitter feed will always beworking to find that right balance between accuracy and timeliness in how we post social media updates, but at the end of the day, the fact remains – if Mother Nature has let you know there is a problem, don’t wait for your cellphone to ring, or to get a text or Twitter message. Move into emergency mode and activate your plan. Especially if we’re facing a large earthquake or other disaster, your internet or cellphone access may be limited and it will be your initial response that saves your life. The most important thing for people in coastal areas of B.C. to understand is that when the ground shakes – especially if it goes on longer than a minute – that’s the first notification that a tsunami could impact the area. Anyone in coastal locations who feels strong shaking from an earthquake should assume that a tsunami may have been generated and should immediately move to high ground as soon as the shaking stops.We must never forget that emergency preparedness begins with each of us as individuals. All British Columbians should have emergency plans and kits in place for themselves and their families. You can find out how to create your own emergency kit at: http://goo.gl/fNFa3And all British Columbians should take the time to familiarize themselves with their community’s emergency plan. As with any large emergency response, I have asked EMBC to conduct a review of how our response and communications systems worked. It’s only responsible that we continue to look at not only what went right, but more importantly, where we can improve and how we can better work with our emergency response partners in local communities to notify and protect our citizens. I can reassure British Columbians that our government is committed to providing a world-class public safety response.

Just Posted

Study highlights Queen Charlotte housing needs

A new housing report highlights lack of social and seniors housing

Northwest family doctors win awards for B.C. launch of CHANGE Program

Northwest family doctors win awards for B.C. launch of CHANGE Program

Duu Guusd expands to include creek near Rennell Sound

More than three decades since the Haida Nation first resolved to protect… Continue reading

Masset Magic: Dancing and driving in circles

Whenever I see a pylon I have to fight the urge to… Continue reading

Tanker ban bill passes House of Commons

A ban against oil tankers in Haida Gwaii and North Coast waters… Continue reading

VIDEO: Canadian Forces help flood-ravaged Grand Forks residents heal

Sgt. Bradley Lowes says the military is used to dealing with traumatic times

NHL playoffs weekly roundup

Vegas Golden Knights have done the impossible and have a chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup

Changes needed for ‘Alert Ready’ mass emergency system

‘You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — and doing it too often’

Las Vegas Golden Knights move on to Stanley Cup final

Improbable run continues for NHL’s newest expansion team

Oregon’s flooded recreational pot market a cautionary tale to Canada

‘In a broader sense, we are adding legal production to an already robust illegal production’

Chilliwack Chiefs make history with first RBC Cup win

In front of a huge and noisy crowd, the Chiefs claimed their first-ever national junior A title

UPDATED: Majority of flood evacuees in Kootenay-Boundary allowed to return home

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

B.C. Lions bring back 6-time all-star offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye

He was acquired by the Montreal Alouettes last year.

Whitecaps rally for 2-2 draw with FC Dallas

Vancouver climbed out of a two-nil hole to tie FC Dallas 2-2

Most Read