The flooding could be extensive in the event of a dam failure due to earthquake

Will you be ready when ‘The Big One’ hits?

BC Hydro, City of Campbell River and Strathcona Regional District put on public information sessions in response to BC Hydro report

If the ground starts shaking enough that you’re having trouble standing and you’re in a low-lying area that may be susceptible to flooding, that’s your cue to evacuate. There will not be another warning, and you may not have long to get to high ground.

That’s one of the messages passed on to the community at a series of information sessions held over the past week at the Tidemark Theatre.

Thanks to a recent study by BC Hydro, we now know more about the effects of a major earthquake on the Campbell River dam system and the possible ramifications of dam failure.

“We had information on potential for ground movements,” BC Hydro representative Stephen Watson said at Monday’s information session, “but that work was expiring and becoming outdated as of 2007,” he said, which spurred the recently-released study – which took six years and cost $10-million to complete – to determine a model for the potential ground movement in the region.

“Certainly we want to be able to retain the water that’s held behind those dams in the event of a major earthquake,” Watson said, which is why they’ve also recently announced their seismic improvement capital plan “which is 20-plus years out to deal with that seismic risk.”

The information sessions were put on in cooperation with the Strathcona Regional District and the City of Campbell River to communicate the interim risk of flooding due to a major event before the completion of that improvement plan.

Howie SiemensHowie Siemens, Protective Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District and Emergency Program Coordinator for the City of Campbell River, followed Watson’s presentation by providing an overview of emergency planning within Campbell River and the surrounding area and the response process that would be activated in the event of a major earthquake. He also stressed the importance of the public to be prepared for a major event.

“Obviously we all live to live by the water and by the mountains, and some of that brings risk,” he said. Now that there are reports available which assess the possible fallout of of these risks people need to ask themselves if they are aware of and prepared for them.

“Most people who are injured during earthquakes are from not getting underneath something solid and holding on,” Siemens said, instead running outside or otherwise making themselves susceptible to other hazards such breaking windows or getting thrown around, or being hit by power lines or chimneys or other material coming off buildings. “‘Drop, cover and hold on’ is the key. Make yourself small, protecting your vital areas, cover your head and making yourself as small as possible underneath something solid. Our buildings are built to a seismic code and will not usually collapse fully. They will usually take the brunt of the shaking.”

He said that if you are in your car when an earthquake happens, you should pull over to the side of the road when its safe and not simply stop immediately wherever you are – which used to be the messaging – to prevent clogging up routes that emergency vehicles and first responders may need to take to get to affected areas to deliver aid.

The most emphatic point Siemens made is that people need to prepare for this eventuality. Have multiple evacuation routes, create a “grab and go kit” that contains a radio (battery operated or crank-style), important documents, extra glasses, food, water, etc. Make a communication plan with people outside your region to be in touch with in a disaster so that they can be a virtual check-in point. Be on social media platforms so you can quickly tell people whether you’re okay or not.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to be ready. These are real events that we need you know that you’re prepared for. In a large event, it will be our communities coming together and helping each other that will dictate the speed of the communities’ recovery,” Siemens said. “If you’re prepared and can help your neighbour and help your community, it will go a long way to getting back to whatever the new normal will be.”

For those who missed the sessions, a video of the first of the three community presentations, as well as the map of flood-susceptible areas of town (and how long the water would take to get there in the event of dam collapse) is available online at campbellriver.ca, strathconard.ca, and bchydro.com