The north coast dodged a bullet this weekend, there is simply no other way to put it. When a magnitude 7.7. earthquake, the second largest in Canadian history, hits and there is no significant damage or injuries you have to count yourself lucky.
I was sitting at home watching the Simpsons when I first heard a rattling sound, then noticed that the TV and indeed the whole house was shaking. Immediately I knew there had been an earthquake, and a sizeable one based on the amount and duration of shaking taking place. Knowing that everyone in the house and the house itself was fine, my mind switched from chilling-on-the-couch mode into full-blown reporter mode.
The first thing I did was to go on to the Canadian Earthquake website to see what had happened, only to find out there was nothing on there. A visit to the US Geological Survey website confirmed that there had been an earthquake 139 kilometres south of Masset on Haida Gwaii – why a US government body had the information about a Canadian earthquake out before our own government is still a bit of a mystery.
Confirming that I wanted to check with the folks on Haida Gwaii. There was no information, and is still no information, to be had on the website of the Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District, so I called up Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha. Or at least I tried.
For the first half hour or so after the quake, phone coverage was hit and miss. On my cell phone, and occasionally on my land line, the response after dialing a number was that all circuits were busy so try your call again later. Can’t imagine that would be a good thing to hear if there were an emergency resulting from the quake. But eventually I got through and found out things were alright, so it was on to the local scene.
Again, there was not and has not been an update to the City of Prince Rupert website. In fact there is nothing on the website at all about the earthquake. Under emergency contacts there is only 911 and the BC Emergency contact number.
What we at the Prince Rupert Northern View found out about the local response came through our contacts. Michael Gurney, who was helping coordinate the emergency response, called the office to explain about the emergency response centre set up in City Hall. A quick call to Const. Matt Ericson got us the information about evacuations in the low lying areas. The Civic Centre being set-up as a potential emergency shelter was discovered through a contact on Facebook. When the operations centre closed up shop and everything was declared safe, that information came on the Twitter feed.
In this case social media played a much more important role in the dissemination of information than hearing it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, but there must be a better way to get information out to the public. We here at the Prince Rupert Northern View are happy to be the place people can go for the latest news and information, and thousands of people turned to our site during the earthquake for information and updates, but when it comes to emergency broadcasting the City needs to step up their game and make sure everyone is aware of what is happening, when it’s happening and how it’s happening in the event of an emergency. And relying on the internet, an entity based on fibre-optic cable and electricity, can’t be the go-to place as both are likely to be lost in the event of a major quake.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the shake had been larger and the tsunami warning resulted in a tsunami…