Stories & Features

Do you have a family & household plan for earthquakes?

Earthquake damage in Christchurch, N.Z.
Damage to Christchurch, N.Z., building after 6.3-magnitude earthquake in June 2011.

Know exactly what to do after you drop, cover and hold on

This story was updated from the original in October 2017.

It was a stirring online audio clip of the sound of an earthquake that got Kirsty and John Pappas motivated to get a full plan together in advance of The Big One.

"I sent a link to the audio to John, and the next day we bought a generator and stocked up on more water," says Kirsty, who lives in Lions Bay but works for BC Hydro communications in downtown Vancouver. "We had our grab-and-go kits and the recommended minimum of 72 hours of supplies ready at home, but we hadn't fully talked through all of the scenarios if a disaster happened.

"We needed to think through our plans for every scenario and be prepared with supplies in our cars and at work as well. I'd say we're about halfway done with our plan, but we're on our way."

As she works a long drive – and a major bridge – away from her home, Kirsty half jokes that part of her plan is to bunk with a workmate who lives in Vancouver if she can't make it home quickly. The realities of life immediately after a quake, 24 hours after a quake, and even two weeks after a quake, were hammered home when she binge-listened CBC Radio's excellent podcast series Fault Lines.

"I'd recommend listening to the podcasts," she says. "They're a real wake-up call."

The Great British Columbia ShakeOut, set for Thursday, Oct. 19 at 10:19 a.m., is part of that wake-up call, as was the terrifying Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker story of 2015 that detailed the potential destruction of a major Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. Geological time may seem slow, and the chances of The Big One happening tomorrow remote, but it will happen. It's only a matter of when.

There's a 30% chance of a magnitude 8.0–8.6 Cascadia earthquake and a 10% chance of a magnitude 8.7–9.2 earthquake happening on this coast in the next 50 years. The 4.5-magnitude quake off the west coast of Vancouver Island on October 11 was just a gentle reminder that we need to be ready.

Stock an emergency kit, talk to your family, build a plan

An emergency kit isn't just about earthquake preparedness. It's vital anytime there's a prolonged power outage and/or damage to infrastructure.

The key is to get a good one for your home, for your car, and to ensure you're stocked up on water. Go to PreparedBC's emergency kit page for a list of items you should include in a build-your-own kit, and for advice on storing water and on putting together to-go bags for home, your vehicle and work.

If you're at home when an earthquake hits, it helps to have figured out in advance the spots in your home that are most structurally safe, and the best escape routes from your home and neighbourhood. See Prepared BC's Prepare Your Home checklist.

There's an even greater chance at least one member of your family will be somewhere else, so put together a full plan, talk about it, and practice it.

Grab PreparedBC's Household Emergency Plan [PDF, 544 KB] online and fill it out with your family. The plan features great tips – such as packing an envelope in your kid's backpack with contact info, etc. – and asks for the following information:

  • Family contact info
  • Pet info
  • Plan of action, including escape exits and "if separated" info
  • Shelter-in-place info (safest place in the home)
  • Child and school info
  • Neighbours contact info
  • Extended family contacts
  • Doctor, utilities, insurance info
  • Emergency kit locations
  • Multiple copies of emergency contact info cards