Earthquake highlights importance of Greater Trail emergency response

Saturday’s 7.7-magnitude earthquake in the Haida Gwaii region is definitely a wake-up call to all citizens.

While there is certainly no reason for West Kootenay residents to panic, Saturday’s 7.7-magnitude earthquake in the Haida Gwaii region is definitely a wake-up call to all citizens.

Southeastern B.C. is not immune to tremors as recent history can attest.

A 2.7 magnitude earthquake near Osoyoos in January was felt in the West Kootenay and one of many over the years.

However, Saturday’s major quake, one of the biggest in Canadian history, hasn’t prompted a run on emergency kits at the local St. John’s Ambulance.

“No, there doesn’t seem to be any heightened interest in safety alternatives – the earthquake and now Hurricane Sandy are far enough away for people here to feel safe,” said Kyra Hoggan, branch administrator for the Trail St. John Ambulance,

“That’s not to say, though, that there isn’t the potential for problems here in the Southern Interior – this summer’s flooding should be evidence enough of that.

“At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I don’t think average residents are adequately prepared for any sort of emergency situation. Few people have emergency kits with food/water reserves in the event of a natural disaster.”

Meanwhile, folks may be wondering if local communities are prepared.

Last week, representatives throughout the region gathered in Grand Forks for a tabletop exercise dealing with a wildfire situation, said Larry Abenante, Trail’s city works manager.

“There was probably about 30 people there from all over,” said Abenante. “It worked awesome.”

He explained the regions have joined forces to simplify plans with common sources throughout the area in the event of an emergency.

“We have an emergency plan for the City of Trail, which was put together back in 2008. They are supposed to be revisited every five years. So we’re due next year to revisit ours. The regional district did theirs a year before us, in 2007, so they’re revisiting theirs this year.”

He explained that Vulnerable Risk assessments have been done for the region and local offices have books and binders for all scenarios.

“There are sections and guidelines for every type of risk we could be involved in.”

He quoted the section on earthquakes calling for an automatic “Level 3 response,” which is a full-fledged alert from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

The alert and response prepares for evacuations, logistics, engineering, and communications everything “to get things moving and working,” said Abenante.

The EOC, located in the lower level of the Greater Trail Community Centre, was paid for by funds from the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program, which is under threat of federal grant cuts.

The centre features full inter connectivity for fire, police, ambulance and public works, four stations with full radio capabilities for all jurisdictions in this regional district, a backup generator and a meeting room for government decision makers.

“There is a lot of equipment here, but we plan for the worst case scenario,” said Kootenay Boundary Fire Rescue regional chief Terry Martin in an earlier interview with the Trail Times.

Although Abenante said there haven’t been any earthquake exercises locally, the weekend’s events will definitely trigger one.

“The potential for something like that is here too in a way,” said Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs.

While the local emergency preparedness plans are geared to deal with floods, chemical spills and wildfire, the weekend’s earthquake was a good reason to review procedures.

“I know we’re well organizes for the sort of things or incidents that, we’ve had in this community or potentially we know exist,” said Bogs.

“I also know we spent a considerable amount of money on the dams. We spent a lot of money earthquake–proofing them, millions of dollars,” said Bogs, who is also a former director with the Columbia Basin Trust.

While many people in the region probably fear the threat of flooding or avalanches as potential natural disasters, earthquake activity isn’t uncommon in Southeastern B.C.

A search of the National Earthquake Database, which only goes back to 1985, revealed a long list of tremors in the area, albeit most under 3.0 magnitude.

Nevertheless, Revelstoke was struck with a 3.3 magnitude quake in 2009,  Vernon felt a 2.1 quake in 2010 and a 3.0 magnitude earthquake shook Invermere in 2011.

Further back, the database showed a 2.9 magnitude earthquake near Creston in 1989, a small 1.8 magnitude earthquake near Nelson in 1991 and a stronger 3.6 magnitude earthquake near Grand Forks in 1998.

Saturday’s tsunami warnings prompted evacuations on Haida Gwaii and in other coastal communities such as Tofino, on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.

Early Sunday morning, the warnings were downgraded to advisories, meaning evacuations were no longer necessary, and they were cancelled altogether a few hours later.

The area is a hot spot for quake activity, with a major fault line just off the coast of the islands that make up Haida Gwaii. It’s the same area that saw Canada’s largest earthquake ever recorded, a magnitude-8.1 quake in 1949.

Saturday’s earthquake was Canada’s largest since that 1949 quake, said John Cassidy, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada.

“This was a huge earthquake – a magnitude 7.7 is the type of earthquake that only happens maybe one or twice around the world each year,” Cassidy said in an interview with Canadian Press on Sunday.

The local St. John’s Ambulance sells emergency kits and Hogan also recommended checking out the emergency preparedness section of our website at http://www.sja.ca/BCYukon/Publications/EmergencyPreparedness/Pages/default.aspx for a complete guide in developing an emergency plan and how to prepare for extreme weather.

With files from CP