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Will you just run when the big earthquake hits?

Posted by Rob Klovance

* Note, this piece was originally published in February, 2011

Were you among the more than 470,000 who took part in the Great British Columbia ShakeOut earthquake drill on January 26? Have you done anything to prepare your home, your office or yourself for the real thing?

And after the reminder of Friday, August 9  - that Vancouver Island-centred earthquake that left towers swaying in Vancouver - are you any more prepared?

If not, take a look at the video above from the August 10, 2010 earthquake in Vanuatu (if you haven't already). And ask yourself if, unprepared, you may fall victim to instinct – the temptation to run – when the Big One hits.

"You can't outrun an earthquake – it's happening everywhere," Victoria emergency planner Rob Johns told the Victoria News recently in recalling his experience during a November 19, 2010 aftershock to a big quake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In the interview Johns admitted that, despite all his earthquake training, he found himself initially hesitant when the aftershock struck while he was on the eighth floor of a building in Christchurch. Given that he was there to study the effects of the initial quake, it wasn't like he didn't half expect it.

"I was half emergency planner, half human," Johns told the News. "The movement was really quite incredible. It was as though the building moved back and forth a couple feet. It was like being on a ride."

Here at BC Hydro's Dunsmuir office in downtown Vancouver, employees took part in a company-wide exercise – in conjunction with the January 26 ShakeOut drill – that ensured we knew the basics of earthquake survival. Fifteen floors up, our Digital Communications team ducked under desks and obediently waited the obligatory 60 seconds after the all-clear announcement had been made.

But then I started thinking. Am I and my family prepared if the real thing happened in our home?. Other than a well-placed emergency preparedness kit and some canned food and drink as backup, I quickly concluded we were not really ready. It was time to get up to speed on preparedness.

Earthquake preparedness basics

B.C.'s Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) has an exhaustive checklist of how to prepare for an earthquake based on the following three objectives:

  • Be prepared to avoid injury;
  • Be prepared to minimize damage to your home;
  • Be prepared to survive afterwards for at least 72 hours without help.

As I checked the list I realized that my family hadn't even considered where to "drop-and-cover" in our Vancouver townhome. My kid's room offers no safe place to hide – any place near the sliding glass window would be risky, and the doorway is dangerous because doors can slam shut during a quake. The best place for the three of us would be between our two bedrooms – a structurally strong area free of potentially falling objects.

I also realized that our emergency kit was in a storage space on the bottom of our three floors. We've now moved it to the main floor.

Another thing that hadn't occurred to me until I looked at the PEP checklist was to put together a vehicle emergency pack. With items including dried fruit and nuts, outdoor clothing, a first aid kit, coins and a map of our region, it struck me that such a pack was a great idea, given how often we travel on back roads, and in winter, around the province.

Emergency preparedness should include what to do in the case of fire, as well as how to prepare for power outages. Here's a list of some helpful links to ensure you have the info you need to prepare for a variety of emergencies.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.