The question the City of Prince Rupert Fire Department and emergency response teams are trying to answer is simple: If the big one hits, is Prince Rupert ready?
A sweeping consultation process with the Province of B.C. and Emergency Management B.C. has begun to answer that exact question.
“The province is going under a review,” said Prince Rupert’s deputy fire chief, Jeff Beckwith.
“They’re going to communities throughout the process to get feedback from them so they can develop a thorough emergency plan for the province.”
Aimed at managing catastrophic and devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, the consultation and public education campaign is engaging all levels of government and any stakeholders associated with public safety.
For Prince Rupert, that means the waterfront.
“From Rupert’s point of view, what we’ve done is been able to identify if we do have a tsunami event with an earthquake, you have to worry about structural damage, infrastructure damage to the city. Obviously, with the tsunami event, you have to worry about a high water event coming into the harbour,” said Beckwith.
Monthly meetings between the waterfront authorities and safety officials have enabled the city to devise a strategic plan unique to the city.
For Prince Rupert, citizens must reach a location 10 metres above the high water mark, along evacuation routes posted throughout the city.
Beckwith said the initial rush of water wouldn’t be the main devastating force so much as the stacking phenomenon and ‘flush’ that occurs when the water pulls back out to sea.
“We’ll probably get a bit of a stacking event where you get a surge of water coming into the harbour. It’ll be followed by a second or third one and it’s going to start stacking water on the inland and that’s where the biggest potential for hazard is; probably the flush … [it will] pull docks apart and pull ships and vessels out of the harbour.”
In 2012, a 7.7 earthquake ruptured near Haida Gwaii and was part of the driving force behind the government’s decision to have a province-wide plan.
The use of an emergency siren was brought up at the city’s last meeting with the province and it was well-received, said Beckwith, noting that Prince Rupert used to have one dating back to World War II but was decommissioned because of its maintenance costs.
“Different sirens may represent different types of events,” said Bob Killbery of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
“It has to be connected to something else. There has to be an information centre people can contact to find out what the siren means.”
Killbery added a multi-tonal siren may be more helpful than a single-toned installment.
The results of the consultations are expected to be filed in a final report by co-chairs John Les, former B.C. Solicitor General and Henry Renteria, former director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, to the Ministry of Justice by the end of the year.
“When you’re talking about a province-wide consultation this is happening very quickly,” said Beckwith.
Currently, residents can find information on what to do during an earthquake or tsunami warning at embc.gov.bc.ca.