By: Sonia Pathak
Photo credits: Ann Pacey
The Big One is coming, and it’s not going to be pretty.
But what is the Big One? The Big One is a whopping 9.0 magnitude earthquake with the potential to devastate the West Coast. According to experts, the Big One is inevitable, and the probability of it happening within the next 50 years is an estimated 12%.
However, the Big One isn’t the only earthquake to watch out for. Earthquakes on the Georgia Strait, with the potential to reach a magnitude of 6.5 or more, are closer and more likely to occur.
“Vancouver is in a very active and complex earthquake region with hundreds of smaller earthquakes happening yearly, but we never feel it. People aren’t aware of the risk that they face,” says Ann Pacey, a volunteer with The Neighbourhood Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) and other volunteer programs. Pacey is on the NEAT advisory council, teaches emergency preparedness classes across the city and coordinates a team of emergency volunteers in the Hillcrest/Marpole area.
“Being aware and prepared is a resiliency thing. I’m particularly interested in the community side of it.”
Pacey is also the founder and co-leader of the Dunbar Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness (DEEP) program, a community-based organization founded in 2012.
DEEP originally focused on raising awareness of the fact that we’ll be “On Our Own” for a significant period after a disaster. The group adopted a program created in Washington State called Map Your Neighbourhood, which highlights the concept that after a disaster, the people that will come to your aid are your immediate neighbors.
“Firefighters are very limited in number,” explains Pacey. Vancouver has a population of more than 600,000 people, with only 180-225 firefighters on active duty at a time.
“They won’t be able to come to your aid or help you, because their priorities will be established by the emergency operations centre, and they’re going to prioritize really key infrastructure like bridges or hospitals… and individuals in homes are going to be on their own,” says Pacey.
Pacey cites natural disasters such as the Christchurch Earthquake and Hurricane Sandy, and the ways in which people naturally gathered and helped each other out afterwards.
“So the idea is that if you can put some structure around that community response, to facilitate the natural tendency to help each other out, it comes together much more quickly… Then we’re going to have a more resilient city.”
In 2016, Vancouver became an affiliate of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative. 100RC is a “commitment dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to physical, social, and economic challenges,” according to the city of Vancouver’s official website. DEEP was recognized as a community leader by the city, and was invited along with three other neighborhoods to participate in the development of a Resilient Vancouver Strategy. Currently, DEEP is developing material to support the Disaster Support Hub concept and facilitate other communities across Vancouver to better prepare for emergencies.
DEEP has come a long way since 2012. “Now we’ve run a number of exercises, and we’ve got a team that if there was a disaster tomorrow, we would be able to organize ourselves and really do something effective,” says Pacey.
DEEP’s initiative and forward thinking has inspired other communities to do the same, and has led to the development of Kerrisdale Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness (KEEP), newly formed in December 2018 with a group of volunteers. It also received a sponsorship from Kerrisdale Community Centre Society.
The Dunbar Community Center Association recognized and awarded DEEP’s efforts with a grant. The grant gave DEEP the opportunity to purchase and outfit a community emergency response container, which includes independent power sources like solar panels, batteries, a generator, and other key supplies.
DEEP runs a variety of workshops, such as tabletop and field exercises, mapping your neighborhood, rapid damage assessment, and more.
“We make it open to anybody. And there’s no charge – completely community based,” says Pacey.
Outreach can be tricky, especially when it comes to disaster and risk awareness. A lot of the times, people don’t want to acknowledge the subject. Pacey notes that after a major earthquake, there’s a noticeable spike in community interest.
“People are going to come when they feel ready, and people come and go,” says Pacey. “But everyone who has touched base with it has learned and come away with something.”
Pacey notes when preparing for emergencies, there are two distinct levels: preparedness at home, and preparedness within the community.
“It’s so important, getting people to start thinking about how they can be an asset to help other people.” Pacey recommends that people interested in emergency preparedness contact DEEP or the Vancouver Volunteer Corps.
If you have any questions or want to know more about DEEP, you can attend the following training sessions, or contact DEEP through their website at https://www.dunbaremergency.ca.
“KEEP is a community-led volunteer initiative to increase Kerrisdale community capacity, and build collaborative readiness to address earthquakes and other urgent situations of vulnerability.”