Vancouver Island earthquake should serve as a wake-up call

Local emergency preparedness expert says most Islanders not ready for ‘the Big One’

Comox Valley Ground SAR information officer Paul Berry says the majority of Islanders are ill-prepared for the ramifications of a major earthquake.

Terry Farrell

Record staff

Did you feel it?

That was the most oft-asked question of the week from Wednesday evening onward, after Vancouver Island shook from the effects of a 6.6-magnitude earthquake.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the epicentre of the 8:10 p.m. quake was 94 kilometres south of Port Hardy, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, at a depth of approximately 11 km.

There were at least two aftershocks in the hours that followed.

Social media sites were abuzz almost immediately, with photos and videos of swinging chandeliers and rippling drapes. But no major damage was reported.

Paul Berry, District Principal of Health and Safety for the Comox Valley School District and information officer for Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, said it could have been much worse.

“First and foremost, Wednesday night was a reminder to everyone that we live in an earthquake zone,” he said. “This was actually a fairly significant quake.

“There certainly have been larger. In 1946 there was an earthquake (7.3 magnitude) in the Valley that did some pretty significant damage. But the difference in the scale when you go from 6.6 to 7, it’s extremely significant. And then of course the type of quake, the depth of the quake, all of that makes a difference.”

Even at the same measurement, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake can be a lot more severe than the one felt Wednesday, depending on depth, lateral versus upthrust movement of the fault, distance from the epicentre, the shape or existence of a ground wave, among other factors.

In short, the Island and its residents got off lucky.

Vancouver Island earthquakes are nothing new. Nor are they rare. There are earthquakes virtually every day along the coast of B.C., although the majority of them are so small, they are only noticeable with seismic equipment. But when one like last week’s rolls along, it gets people talking.

Berry would like to see more than talk.

“A quake of this scale tends to be a reminder to people that ‘hmmm, maybe there’s something I need to do to be better prepared than I am.’ But likely, three weeks down the line, this episode will be forgotten and people will be no further ahead,” he said.

“That tends to be the pattern.”

Berry said it doesn’t take much to be prepared, and a little preparation can go a long way towards surviving a major catastrophe.

“What we would hope is that each and every home would take some time to put together some items so they would be self-sufficient at their homes for at least two to three days, even longer,” he said.

The Comox Valley Emergency Program website (comoxvalleyemergencyprogram.com) has a wealth of information on earthquake preparedness.

“Your basics – food, water, a tent for shelter and the ability to cook something, because you might not be able to stay in your home and you might not be able to travel on the roads, should be part of your kit,” said Berry. “Access to medication that people might need (i.e. insulin, asthma inhalers), those are things people don’t think about but it’s possible you wouldn’t have access to things like that for many days.”

Berry added that the 72-hour window is a best-case scenario. It’s advisable to be prepared for a much longer period before help arrives; and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security based upon location.

“One of the things that people take for granted here in the Comox Valley – they look at the fact that we have the military base here and if something goes wrong, we’re OK. They are right here,” he said. “But that’s false. They (military) are going to go where they are asked to go – to the major population centres. They are going to be called to the Lower Mainland; Victoria maybe.”

Berry said to use Wednesday’s wake-up call as just that. Don’t just talk about it; do something about it.

“There really is no excuse not to be prepared. It’s just a matter of doing it, and sitting down as a family and talk the plan through – what you need, where you would put it.”

editor@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

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