News Views: Fair warning on earthquakes

Time Emergency Management BC moved into 21st Century

The 7.7 magnitude earthquake near Hadia Gwaii on Saturday came as a shock in the Lower Mainland.

Many here not only didn’t feel it, but didn’t even hear about the tsunami warning until almost an hour later, which is also shocking given it was the second biggest earthquake in B.C. history, larger than the one that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Emergency Info B.C. issued its first public warning at 8:55 p.m., almost an hour after the quake hit.

It explained Monday that regional operation centres were notified within 12 minutes. Regional authourities then contacted local ones. Phone calls were made in order of priority, as information was verified.

So the multi-faceted emergency management system in B.C. is a phone tree? What if some wires had been knocked down by a fallen tree?

The system also sends out faxes.

May we remind those in charge that it’s not 2001 anymore. Many adults, and children, have cellphones, with e-mail and text and face-to-face messaging, not to mention Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts. The latter could be used to inform the public instantly.

To suggest that the ground shaking is itself an earthquake warning is a feeble response given a train can do the same.

The threat of a tsunami might have been minimal, this time. But look at the carnage caused by the storm Sandy, despite unprecedented warning, including a plea from U.S. President Barack Obama to be safe and not question evacuation orders.

Even then tragedy could not be avoided.

What if, though, the warnings were not heeded? What if the message wasn’t delivered in time? What if the storm hit suddenly?

Time is critical in such instances. It shouldn’t take an hour to issue a tsunami warning.

Minister of Justice Shirley Bond has admitted aspects of the earthquake response could have been done better.

Televised alerts are already being discussed.

The government should consider every tool available, including social media, to inform the public when people’s safety is at stake.

They deserve fair warning, not excuses and platitudes.

– The News

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