Haida Gwaii emergency responders react to provincial earthquake report

While a recent report sites the 2012 earthquake and tsunami warning in Haida Gwaii as an example of how unprepared the province is.

While a recent report sites the 2012 earthquake and tsunami warning in Haida Gwaii as an example of how unprepared the province is to respond to an event, not all emergency coordinators on the islands agree.

Catastrophic Earthquake Preparedness, a recent report by the B.C. auditor general, determined Emergency Management BC (EMBC) isn’t prepared for a major earthquake, citing “many of EMBC’s deficiencies in its earthquake response capabilities were highlighted in their 2012 response to a potential tsunami in Haida Gwaii” (see Page A6 for more details on the report).

Following the 7.7 magnitude earthquake, EMBC drafted an “after action” report of that identified shortcomings in the province’s response and ways to address them.

EMBC noted it did not have enough experienced personnel, knowledge and training to effectively respond to an event, that some local governments’ plans weren’t adequate and a number of communities lacked information and education on what they and local responders should do.

The report stated “EMBC is concerned that without additional resources and program enhancements communities will continue to be at risk”.

But Peter Weeber, who is part of Queen Charlotte’s emergency planning group, believes the province fulfilled its mandate during the 2012 event. According to Weeber, he was in communication with provincial and regional EMBC operations within minutes for support.

Weeber said resources for emergency planning are available through EMBC, but it’s up to communities to know what to do if a major earthquake occurs.

“There’s not much the province can do for us, other than let us know there’s a threat,” he said.

“If the earth shakes, we know there’s a threat.”

“I did hear a lot of complaints up and down the coast, but I don’t agree with any of it. [Some communities] were outraged about the province not notifying everybody. It was a 7.7 earthquake, I don’t think you need a notification to tell you there’s a potential for a tsunami or major issues,” said Weeber.

“I would dare to say that anyone who made a big fuss during that last event was not adequately prepared.”

Queen Charlotte City Mayor Carol Kulesha said communication and timely response from the province was an issue in the 2012 earthquake, so she is pleased the report is sparking change. She would like to see funding for early notification devices like tsunami sirens and weather alert radios, or for emergency personnel training, radios, first aid instruction and equipment within remote communities, something Weeber agreed be useful.

“A great deal of responsibility now rests with you as an individual to be prepared to care for yourself and your municipality to organize its service and carry you through until help can arrive if needed,” said Kulesha.

“When I think about the Lower Mainland being impacted, I don’t believe we can expect assistance for a very long time and we need to be prepared for that.”

Trevor Jarvis, Masset’s CAO and emergency coordinator, declined to comment directly on the report or its recommendations stating he didn’t read the entire 40-page report, but said the 2012 earthquake helped Masset adjust its emergency plans.

“Fortunately there was no damage that resulted from that earthquake and it raised awareness for people in this area,” said Jarvis, adding the key to earthquake preparedness anywhere in the world starts with individuals.

“Having a personal emergency kit is the best way you can be prepared for any emergency. Participating in the annual Shakeout BC Drill is another way to improve awareness and education … these will always be a key part of emergency planning for the Village of Masset.”

Countless earthquakes of smaller magnitudes have been occurring near Haida Gwaii since October 2012, the most recent being a 4.5 magnitude earthquake 160 kilometres south of Masset on Wednesday, March 27. No tsunami was generated from the

shake.