I seem to be the only person who marks this anniversary. I continue to believe that it’s important. I guess it’s against human nature to try not to think about the bad things. But when those bad things are coming — 100% for sure — and there are steps that we can take now that will save people’s lives, I feel that it is our duty to think of those bad things, and make contingency plans.

What’s happening in Haiti will happen here

This is especially on my mind right now, as I watch the tragedies unfolding in Haiti. What is happening in Haiti will happen here. About the only difference is that our earthquake will be 10 to 100 times stronger.

It’s easy to think that the consequences here will not be so bad – we’re an affluent first-world society, right? But imagine the destruction after that quake – not just here in the remote communities, but in Victoria and Seattle, Vancouver and Nanaimo. Aid efforts will focus first in the major population centres. In particular, here in Tofino and Ucluelet, our road out will likely be cut off for weeks, if not months, not only by downed trees but by major landslides (you know that road – take a moment to imagine it after a magnitude 8 or 9 quake). How much food and water do you have stockpiled?

I’m not writing this to be negative or to scare people. If people do not comprehend the seriousness (and inevitability) of this quake (not to mention the tsunami following), they can’t do anything to prepare for it.

What we can learn from Haiti

I am learning a lot about how inadequate our emergency planning is as I watch what is happening in Haiti. Some of the big points that are being drummed home to me are:
1. People are afraid to enter the buildings that are still standing (damaged) after the quake due to the very real threat of aftershocks.  Not so bad in a tropical country. Sleeping on the street or in the forest is not so great here.

2. Even in a relatively small region like Haiti, there are many difficulties in distributing aid when the infrastructure is seriously damaged. In particular, remote areas with low populations (i.e., us) will be very low on the aid list.

3. Food and water shortages will be on-going for weeks, or even months. We need to have large stockpiles here – not 3 days of food and a couple of water bottles in your cupboard – large stockpiles!

What if…

This also makes me think about the What If’s.

What if the quake happens in summer, when we have 20,000 people in town? How do we have enough food in store for all of the visitors? Should accommodation-providers have some responsibility for ensuring that sufficient emergency food is stored?

What if the quake happens in winter? Where will w sleep? How will we stay warm and dry for the many months before significant help arrives, and the years until significant rebulding takes place?

What if some residents are responsible and stockpile enough food, and others don’t bother? Should those who did stockpile put their own family at risk by sharing their food? Or should they watch their neighbours suffer and starve while they contentedly munch on their stores? (Easy answer here: it is every person’s duty to stockpile food and water, so they do not put anyone else in a dangerous position because of their own lack of preparation).

What if we have no clue what is going on in the outside world? With the power out and landslides across HIghway 4, communication will be cut off. The CBC repeater here goes off when the power goes out, and the CHMZ station is located on the dock and definitely will not survive a quake or a tsunami. So even battery-powered radios will be of no use. How many people have shortwave radios?

These are just some of the things that worry me. I know that these are difficult things to talk about and think about. But ignoring it, waiting for it to happen and dealing with it then, will cost much unecessary loss of life.

What we can do to prepare

Several years ago, our local emergency planning people had come up with “solutions” that I did not feel were helpful and, in some cases, would actually put people in increased danger. (For those who don’t know me, I have a PhD in Geology, with a specialty in Structural Geology, which is the study of crustal movements (folds and faults) caused by plate tectonics – and I have read every relevant technical scientific publication about our specific earthquake risk here – so I do have some specialist knowledge of the subject).

So, three years ago, I wrote two articles, which were published both in the Westcoaster and the Westerly, as my contribution to helping people in our community understand what our earthquake and tsunami will be like, and what we can do to prepare for these events. As far as I know, there has been no response from the emergency planners, or our municipal government to these articles. But I am posting the links again, as an effort to help local residents to get informed.

Ignoring this will cost many lives – unnecessarily

So, please pause for a thought this evening – not so much to mark this centuries-old event, but to remind ourselves that it will happen again. Not “it might” – it will. It is our duty, to ourselves and our families and our neighbours, to talk about it and to prepare for it.

For some facts about our earthquake: why we are at risk, when to expect it, how do scientists know these things, have a look at today’s post on my own blog: