Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the things I know (see references listed at the bottom of this article).
But even if I didn’t have a PhD in Structural Geology (study of movements in the Earth’s crust, e.g. faults), and even if I hadn’t read most every scientific paper published about the earthquake and tsunami risk here on the West Coast, I think I’d be asking someone who did know. This is life-and-death stuff.
Even more relevant now, with a new geological study published last month, saying that the likelihood of the big earthquake+tsunami coming within the next 50 years is nearly 4 times higher than previously thought. I sold my house on Chestermans based on the old data – now the odds have gone from 10% to 37% that it will happen within most people’s life-times. (See: http://www.globaltvedmonton.com/world./Pacific+Northwest+faces+higher+risk+more+frequent+earthquakes+Study/3070694/story.html)
So I don’t get how people can be so apathetic about this. Is it because we don’t get the constant magnitude 5 and 6 temblors in between the occasional big one, like they do in California and Chile and Japan, to remind us that this is real? Is it because people don’t like to think of bad stuff; or believe that if they ignore it, it will go away? Is it because people have seen too much disaster on TV, that they just cannot fathom that it can and will also happen to us?
I honestly don’t get it. But, in spite of that, I have been fighting for over three years to get Tofino to take responsibility by (a) providing relevant information to residents and tourists and (b) coming up with an emergency preparedness plan that will actually help save lives – unlike the current plan which endangers hundreds or even thousands of people by directing them into the inundation zone rather than away from it!
But guys, I give up. Few people in this community seem to care about this at all. Like I said, I absolutely don’t get it. Many or possibly most of you will die in this event, with the current plans and preparation as they are, and it’s like “Whatever.” I cannot even just say “Fine, you guys don’t want to prepare? Well I will anyway.” – because your lack of preparedness affects my survival.
So I’ve revised my personal plan. After it hits, I’m getting the hell out of here. I’m not lingering around to starve with y’all here on the peninsula. I’m riding my bike, hiking it through the sections where the highway is caved into Kennedy Lake, through to Port Alberni. And if there is not enough help there, I’ll continue through to Nanaimo or Victoria, to whatever place is big enough that the international aid is actually getting through.
And I feel bad about this. I am not the kind of person who believes in ditching their community, in leaving them in a time of disaster that was anticipated and could have been prepared for. But there’s only so much of a solo effort one can do before you actually have to focus on yourself and earning your living and all that, and stop getting all stressed out about things that you can’t seem to influence.
So I at least want to leave you with some information. I don’t want you all to starve out here, and maybe some day someone will start to take this seriously. So here are some things that I think are important to know for you to make your own personal plan. And, at the bottom of this post are links to the articles I have written and the various media interviews I have done trying to get someone, anyone, in our village to get off their butts and actually do something useful about this.
1. You should have a plan for both types of events. One is our own earthquake (very strong and damaging, lots of buildings down, trees across the road, many people badly injured) followed by a major tsunami about 15 minutes later. The other is a tsunami from elsewhere, in which case we would presumably have several hours warning* and the roads would actually be driveable.
(*Oops, well we would have warning if the tsunami sirens promised to us in 2005, 2008, spring 2010, and now for fall 2010, were here. It’s getting a bit hard to believe our municipal government’s promises – but everyone just keeps letting them get away with these false promises).
And, if you’re wondering, the reason we don’t have them is because, two years running, our municipal representatives wrote requests for federal funding for tsunami sirens where the funding criteria said clearly that these grants were not eligible to fund emergency warning systems such as sirens. They “chuckled” when they found out they were turned down the second year for the exact same reason as the first year).
[ed. June 2011 – sorry, these Westcoaster links in previous 2 paragraphs are now defunct. JW]
2. The tsunami will be a series of waves coming in over a period of about 12 hours. So, in the case of our own big earthquake, if you live (or happen to be in) in the inundation zone, your emergency plan should involve getting yourself – and a minimum of possessions, e.g. warm clothes, a water bottle, and a granola bar – up to high ground within 15 minutes (or as quickly as possible) and staying up there for at least 12 hours. It is more important to go up there with nothing, and spend a chilly and hungry 12 hours, than to delay your flight by finding stuff to take with you.
3. Emergency plans and emergency kits should be specific to the event (two scenarios listed in Point 1 above) and to whether you live within the inundation zone or above it. I’ve written lots about this in my other articles.
4. Probably 10 m above the high tide mark is high enough – but better if you can get higher, just in case. In my view, the current evacuation instructions will put people into unecessary danger. Have a look at the official evacuation route map: TsunamiTofinoMapBroch (2.2 Mb pdf). The areas in white are above the 15 m mark; the areas in yellow are likely to be inundated by sunami waves. The arrows telling people where to go direct people INTO these inundation zones! If you think you can get to where the arrows tell you to go before the first tsunami wave is supposed to hit, then great, feel free to try it out. But, in the case of our own earthquake, where the roads will be damaged and you only have 15 minutes to get to safe ground, I suggest you run to the nearest white area. I suggest that you memorize now where these are, so you won’t have to be looking for this map at that moment.
5. The emergency kits they outline are ridiculous, and make no distinction between the two types of events or whether you live within the inundation zone or not. (People who live up high don’t need a grab’n’go kit – they just need long-term survival supplies. And people who live down low don’t need much in their kit, just enough to survive 12 hours. It’s more important that you can run fast with it, than that it has everything under the sun – such as the listed crowbar). I’ve written lots about this elsewhere too. (I also sold my house on Chestermans and bought “on the rock” in town for good reason).
6. Different from the “grab’n’go kit” is the issue of long-term survival. Provincial recommendation suggest you have 3 days of food and water stockpiled. OK, you know what Highway 4 looks like – it’s caving into Kennedy Lake even without any earthquake. That highway is going to be out for weeks, if not months. Boats and planes are not going to be focussing on delivering aid to Tofino – the area of damage will be so extensive that they will focus on larger population centres: Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, etc. etc. etc. Tofino will get little or no outside help for weeks or months. So you figure out how much food you should have put away. And what about your neighbours? If they don’t stockpile, too – are you going to compromise your own security by sharing, or are you going to defend your food and watch them starve? Tough questions, eh? I’m tired of trying to get people to talk about them – that’s why I’ve changed my plan and will be riding my bike out of here.
7. Speaking of food, what if it happens in summer? Who is supposed to stockpile the food for the 10,000-20,000 tourists in town? No one’s talkin’ about it…
8. Oh, then what if it happens in winter? Remember Haiti? With all of the damage to houses and all of the aftershocks, people were afraid to go back into their homes, and slept on the streets instead. That’s not so great on a Caribbean island – even worse in Tofino winter: cold, wet, dark.
OK, I am just putting it out there. I think everyone should have the right to accurate information, so they can make their own decisions.
But I give up now, I’ve been trying to get somee discussion and action on this for over three years. You guys are on your own with what you want to do with it. Like I said, I’ll be out of here.
Items referred to in this article:
Info about the character and magnitude of our expected earthquake and tsunami events (PDF, originally published in The Westcoaster and the Westerly newspaper, April 2007)
A critique of Tofino’s emergency plan (PDF, originally published in The Westcoaster and the Westerly newspaper, April 2007):
Further thoughts on Tofino’s emergency planning, and what we can learn from Haiti (pub. January 2010):
My interview on CBC’s The National TV news (broadcast June 1 2010, click on the “Tofino” clip):
My interview on CBC Radio’s On the Island (broadcast June 21 2010):