Major earthquake and tsunami response exercise scheduled for June

By Shayne Morrow, March 3, 2016

Russell Dyson, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer.

Photo by Shayne Morrow

Port Alberni — 

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer Russell Dyson held a media briefing on an upcoming earthquake/tsunami response exercise.

It is scheduled to take place in Port Alberni this June through Emergency Management B.C.

The meeting took place on March 2 at the ACRD Emergency Operations Centre on Fourth Avenue, next to Coastal Community Credit Union.

Dyson said the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) will operate as the nerve centre for a major deployment of provincial emergency resources, including the Heavy Urban Search & Rescue (HUSAR) team from Vancouver.

“It’s a provincial initiative to ‘action’ many of the components of the provincial response to an actual emergency,” Dyson said.

“So, the bad news is, we’re going to be hit with a major earthquake and tsunami. The good news is, we know when, and it’s June 7th through the 10th.”

As the site of the devastating Good Friday Tsunami in 1964, and with an extensive Tsunami Warning System already in place, Dyson said Port Alberni was the natural choice for a venue to conduct a major exercise.

While Port Alberni will serve as the communications hub, Exercise Coastal Response includes all coastal communities and First Nations located within the expected Inundation Zone.

Emergency coordinators from each Nuu-chah-nulth Nation will report to the EOC in real-time as the disaster plays out.

The exercise will be the first-time deployment of the Provincial Coordination Team, which can be activated to support local authorities in an emergency.

It will also mark the first full-scale HUSAR training exercise in partnership with Emergency Management BC.

“[Port Alberni] City Works are helping them develop a number of scenarios,” Dyson said. “We anticipate there will be two to three hundred professionals engaged in the exercise.”

The regional district team in the EOC office will coordinate the initial response effort, involving RCMP, the BC Ambulance Service and local search and rescue teams.

In a real emergency, these partners would put together the initial situation report and the EOC would report to the provincial authorities and request the appropriate help.

The Arrowsmith Amateur Radio Club will be on hand to patch together a communications network when the exercise moves into a simulated blackout of telephone and Internet service.

“You, the public, won’t see that, but we, who are involved in the exercise, will be dealing with situations like that.”
As the provincial response unfolds over the four days, EMBC will set up a mobile communications centre in the parking lot outside the EOC on Fourth Avenue.

Dyson noted that some aspects of the exercise will be conducted on tabletop, but many, particularly the medical evacuations, will be as realistic as possible.

“There is not a callout of volunteers as yet, but [Alberni District Secondary School] will likely provide ‘victims,’ with some help from Portal Players (theatre troupe).”

While the Tsunami Warning System will be deployed, the Port Alberni Fire Department, which operates the system, has installed the new warning sound for test purposes. Instead of a siren, those within range of the towers will hear the sound of an Australian didjeridoo.

Dyson said while the immediate focus is to conduct a realistic training exercise, the overall goal is to increase community awareness and to inspire families to make their own preparations for a natural disaster.

“Let’s use between now and June 7th to get our families ready,” Dyson said. “Our emphasis is on being able to survive for 72 hours without any of those conveniences we are used to.

“In a real disaster, there may be no cellphone coverage; you may have to rely on the food you have on hand; if you have prescriptions, you will have to rely on what you have in your possession.”

And above all, you will need water. Dyson said information on emergency preparedness is readily available online through the ACRD www.acrd.bc.ca/emergency.htm  website, or log onto the Prepared BC website at www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc and Select “Skip to Main Content” to download a range of information in PDF form.

One item all emergency preparedness professionals agree on is having a grab-and-go bag at hand, both at home and at the workplace.

For Wednesday’s meeting, Dyson displayed two bags from Holistic Emergency Preparedness & Response Ltd., a Lower Mainland company that provides equipment and training to First Nations in B.C. and the Yukon. One backpack-sized bag contains emergency food and water for two people for 72 hours. A bigger bag contains food and water, plus emergency shelter and blankets.

Both were assembled according to specifications requested by Ehattesaht-Chinehkint, according to Holistic owner Marc D’Aquino.

As the event approaches, Ha-Shilth-Sa will be posting a series of articles devoted to preparing for a natural disaster: What should I pack? Where do I go? What route should I take? Where do I get information? Because if you wait until the ground starts shaking, it’s too late to start planning.