Editorial: Are we ready for the big one?

On Friday, Nov. 30, during the morning commute, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the Anchorage area in South Central Alaska. In the chaos that ensued, a highway overpass, roads and many buildings – including schools and sports complexes – sustained heavy damage. Power was knocked out, a tsunami warning was issued and dozens of aftershocks followed. Fortunately, injuries from broken glass and falling debris were reported as minor and there were no fatalities.

The earthquake prompted an immediate alert from the Insurance Bureau of Canada: “This event should serve as an important reminder that Canada’s west coast faces a significant earthquake risk, and it is important that everyone living in this area be prepared.”

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The message is especially timely for the Sunshine Coast, where the regional district’s emergency program has been in a transitional phase since the departure of longtime coordinator Bill Elsner during the summer. Last month, the directors of Emergency Social Services went public with their concerns about low morale among volunteers and the region’s state of emergency preparedness in general. “There is no way to describe the situation we find ourselves in other than getting to an urgent situation,” deputy director Fern Keene warned in a letter.

Responding to those concerns, SCRD chief administrative officer Janette Loveys has tried to put the public at ease. In last week’s story, “SCRD emergency program in flux,” Loveys told reporter Sean Eckford that the regional district’s capacity to provide emergency services is unimpaired as a review of the coordinator position continues. She said there is no shortage of qualified staff to run an emergency operations centre if needed and consultants’ reports due next month will inform recommendations to the board on the future of the program. The issue is also on the radar for both newly elected mayors.

As the process plays out, we should all be mindful that emergency preparedness begins at home. A search on the B.C. government website (gov.bc.ca) will turn up a wealth of information on the most likely hazards that could occur in our area (storm surges, wildfires, windstorms); how to prepare your family, home or business; how to build an emergency kit; and why it’s important to connect with your neighbours.

When it comes to facing an emergency, don’t ask what the SCRD can do for you. Ask what you can do for yourself.

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