Imagine a devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake that prompts a massive tsunami on Vancouver Island.
That’s exactly what more than 70 first responders have been trying to simulate in Port Alberni since Tuesday this week.
The responders, who are mostly from Vancouver, are honing emergency response procedures to handle an imitated 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the shore of southwestern B.C. and subsequent tsunami that would impact the west coast of Vancouver Island minutes after the initial shock.
A number of specially trained volunteers are on site to help make sure the response is as authentic and close to real life as possible. Some volunteers will be acting as medical patients with a full-on medical makeover, complete with movie-quality makeup and a script to follow during the course of treatment. Others will pose as those in need of shelter, food, water, emotional support, family reunification and information on the crisis.
These volunteer-actors include 160 staff and students from School District 70, while Vancouver’s SFX Studios will provide medical make-up for the actors.
Experts say B.C. has long been overdue for a major earthquake, and, for Emergency Social Services volunteers and the B.C. branch of the Salvation Army, the exercise is an opportunity to experience what volunteering at “The Big One” might feel like.
These volunteers will be on hand in Port Alberni filling the roles they would in an actual disaster to help the province test response plans.
Emergency Social Services is a temporary public aid that provides up to 72-hours of essentials, such as group lodging and essential food service provided in churches, schools or stadiums, as well as emergency clothing, basic toiletries, prescriptions or absolute necessities that evacuees are often without.
Today, members of the media will be touring the “Ground Zero” of B.C.’s first ever, full-scale earthquake and tsunami response.
They will get a sneak peek of the mass-care facilities and the mobile medical unit where doctors will treat casualties, access to the “mock morgue” led by the BC Coroners Service, the heli-pad landing area where emergency medical supplies will be slung in, and the extraction of survivors from a simulated building collapse.
The exercise comes 50 years after a major tsunami hit Port Alberni, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. On March 27, 1964, a massive earthquake struck Prince William Sound in Alaska. The earthquake registered 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasted four-and-a-half minutes, which made it the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. history. The tsunami waves resulting from this earthquake claimed more than one-hundred lives in the United States.
Just after midnight on March 28, tsunami waves from the earthquake funnelled up 40 kilometres of the Alberni Inlet, amplifying their height and impact, and a series of waves lifted homes off their foundations and upended cars.
“Although the devastation that resulted from the 1964 Earthquake happened over five decades ago, there are many lessons our government has learned from it,” said Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness, Naomi Yamamoto.
Global BC reporter Linda Aylesworth has been participating in the exercises and will have a full report on tonight’s news hour at 6 p.m.
To learn more about the BC Earthquake Immediate Response Plan, go here.