Even though you might not feel all of them, there are over 3,000 earthquakes each year in British Columbia. The proximity of the province to the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates means that any subtle changes deep underground gets translated into ground movement. Fortunately, many of these earth tremors are too small for us to notice, but there are definitely some each year that catch our attention. Many people in the province live in fear of The Big One; a catastrophic earthquake that completely destroys homes and lives, but with the right earthquake safety preparations, the damage caused by The Big One can be drastically reduced.
The key for effective earthquake safety preparation is to find the fine line between being ready for disaster and living your day to day life. If you have young children, it’s even more important to strike this balance as you don’t want your kids living in fear of something that seismologists believe has only a 1 in 10 chance of happening over the next 50 years. But just in case, the following 5 ideas make up an ideal earthquake safety checklist for BC residents.
Start off with the big picture. If you live in a busy downtown area, your main focus for earthquake safety preparation will be installing seismic fasteners onto freestanding furniture and finding safe places to run and hide. However, if you live by the coast, you need to be aware that British Columbia has been split into five tsunami “zones”, so you need to know which one you live in. The five zones are:
The north coast and Haida Gwaii
The central coast and northeast Vancouver Island (this zone includes Kitmat, Bella Coola and Port Hardy)
The outer west coast of Vancouver Island, taking all points between Cape Scott to Port Renfrew
The Juan de Fuca strait from Jordan River to Greater Victoria, including the Saanich Peninsula
The Strait of St George (this includes the Gulf Islands, Greater Vancouver and Johnstone Strait)
Within each zone, there are 4 levels of warning that you need to be aware of:
Information – this means that you can expect minor waves at most, and you don’t need to take action.
Watch – this is when the government doesn’t know the danger level yet, so you need to keep an eye out for further information.
Advisory – strong currents are likely near your neighbourhood, so your main duty is to get away from the shoreline.
Warning – this is the highest level and means that a big wave is incoming. Full evacuation of your area is suggested at this level.
For each zone, there is a corresponding map so you can see exactly which tsunami zone you’re in so you can build it into your earthquake safety plan.
Household Emergency Plan
The next step in your earthquake safety checklist is to complete a household emergency plan. All members of your family (or at least those who can participate in such a meeting!) should be present for the discussions, which should cover some, or all, of the following:
Escape routes from all rooms – don’t be afraid to play devil’s advocate about what to do if your first escape route is blocked or unavailable.
Shelter-in-place location – if the government issues a “shelter-in-place” warning, make sure everyone knows where that is in your home, or what to do if they can’t get there.
Neighbourhood meeting places if you need to evacuate your home – make sure you have two or three locations spread out so at least one will be available.
Out of neighbourhood meeting places – these should be places near schools, workplaces or other common locations your family visits. In the case of The Big One happening when you’re out of the home, your family should make their way to one of these places and wait in place to be found.
Earthquake Safety Kit
One of the best earthquake safety tips is to prepare a basic earthquake safety kit in an easy to access location. Some of the essential items for this kit include:
Medical kit – this needs to have the basics of bandages, antiseptic cream and wipes, gloves, gauze, pain medication and insect bite cream.
Battery, hand crank or solar powered radio – make sure you have a list of locally available radio stations that will broadcast emergency information.
Food supplies – these should be tins or bottle so they won’t spoil, and should last you and your family up to four days.
Dust masks – these will help you breathe through the dust. As with airplanes, fix your own before fixing those of your children.
Spare clothing and footwear – keeping warm and dry will help keep everyone healthy as well as maintaining good morale.
Copies of important documents – in the case of a statewide catastrophe, having copies of birth and marriage certificates, insurance documents and any medical paperwork will help you get back on your feet quicker.
You should also have earthquake safety pictures of your safe places, any medication you need and family members for younger children to use.
Be Ready for Quick Action
The last part of your in home earthquake safety checklist is to know where your utilities come into your home and how to shut them off. This includes gas and water supplies. You should also know how to shut off the electricity to the whole house, and have a ready supply of fire extinguishers for gas, wood and electrical fires. In an ideal scenario, you should make signs and how-to pictures so that other family members know how to act quickly in an emergency earthquake situation.
Finally, given the infrequency of big earthquakes in BC, it’s easy to become a little complacent and forget about the earthquake safety checklist you’ve just completed. Make sure you review everything a couple of times each year to keep everything fresh and current. This will allow you to update anything in your earthquake safety kit as well as adapt your plan to meet any changes that have happened for you or your family.