As we watched the events in Fort McMurray unfold, a nagging voice in the back of our heads no doubt reminded us of the up coming summer season. Hot and dry weather is forecast, and recent reports from Victoria are warning us to brace ourselves for an abnormally dry season.
Last summer we experienced the smoke from the mainland fires, and those of us living on Gorge Harbour were actually socked in by the smoke. Yes, it could happen here! Our island is resilient and our friends and neighbours are resourceful as well, but before the hot season begins, let's give a little thought to our safety here on this island.
Although there are several potential emergencies, the two that most commonly come to mind for Cortes Islanders are earthquake and wildfire. Much of the following discussion will encompass both these possibilities, although with the summer approaching, wildfires will be our main focus.
Cortes Islanders should be aware of our well-trained and practiced volunteer fire fighters, led by a fire chief with wildfire experience. Our British Columbia Ambulance Service crew is also a well trained team of dedicated of paramedics. Our Emergency Social Services volunteers are also in constant training to assist the community should an event arise. More recently, we have developed greater capacity with Emergency Communications through Amateur Radio and volunteers from our local amateur radio group, CIRCLE (Cortes Island Radio Club and Learning Enterprise). All of those groups are training together to assist our community in an emergency.
We are extremely fortunate on our little island to have an active local radio station, CKTZ, which can provide us with updates and directions during a serious emergency. We should all be prepared to listen for instructions and updates with a battery powered emergency radio on 89.5 FM. But the key to our success will be how we, as individuals, prepare ourselves, our families, our pets, and our homes. The intent here is to help point everyone in the direction of resources that will guide you in this process.
Our Province of British Columbia has put forth considerable thought and effort to help us prepare. Plans have been developed for a number of emergency situations and the Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) building in Victoria is built to the highest standards. From there, province-wide emergency communications will be organized.
In your personal emergency preparation and planning, start at the Prepared BC website (http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc)
It is very well thought out and a wealth of information. Because of this, we will use the site as a template and summarize the key concepts that concern us here on Cortes Island.Know the Risks
Fortunately, we are not in a tsunami zone, and many of us are familiar with life without electricity (given our usual December outages). We do live in an earthquake zone, but fortunately much of Cortes is bedrock and many of our homes have some resilience with wood framing. Information on how to prepare your home for an earthquake is available online, and we will expand on this topic in a future article. This summer, our biggest concern is wildfire. It is not impossible that our little island could be engulfed by fire, given the wealth of coniferous forest and limited rainfall. No amount of training, and as we've seen with Fort McMurray, no number of resources can guarantee the full containment of a wildfire. In the event of an uncontrollable wildfire, an island-wide evacuation could be ordered.
Our Regional District does have an emergency Evacuation Plan for Cortes Island, but it is not within the scope of this article to present it here. The key point is to know that one exists and it will be implemented when necessary. Coordination will come from Campbell River, away from the immediate danger and where communication coverage is sufficient to coordinate such an event. Action will take place on island with our community volunteer fire fighters, ESS volunteers, paramedics, amateur radio operators, community volunteers, and external support. We are an Island and our evacuation points will focus on the five public wharves – Whaletown, Gorge Harbour, Manson's Landing, Cortes Bay, and Squirrel Cove. Alternatives include the log dump on Gorge Harbour, the Gorge Harbour Marina, and the Seattle Yacht Club. Of course the ferry terminal at Whaletown is an obvious point, but be aware that it may not be possible to take your vehicle if a critical evacuation is required – so have those Grab and Go bags ready! Those unable to reach those points will need to find safety along the waterline where they can await beach pickup. Be prepared with a bright orange piece of fabric or plastic to use as a signal flag for passing boats and aircraft. Build an Emergency Kit
One of the things most evident from the Fort McMurray event was that those affected found that they had insufficient time to organize their evacuation. Advanced planning could be a lifesaver here. One key item that should be packed and ready to go is a “Grab and Go” bag. This bag will contain the key items for your identification and survival. Prepared BC has a special PDF file for this alone (http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/preparedbc/2015_equake_tsunami_kitcard_web.pdf)
. Many people supplement with items of personal importance. The details of each kit will depend on the individual and will include personal items such as spare medications and eyeglasses. Just remember that you must be able to lift and carry it over potentially rough terrain, so keep it as light as possible in a backpack or easy to carry bag.Meet your Neighbours/Neighbourhood Preparedness
Know the people around you: You will all be depending upon one another. Once again, Prepared BC has an excellent brochure on how you and your neighbours can prepare. See http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/preparedbc/in_it_together_neighbourhood_preparedness_guide_web_final_2015.pdf
.The Eight Steps to Neighbourhood Preparedness:Step 1: Prepare your home
Pulling together as a neighbourhood requires a basic level of personal preparedness. Take the first steps by completing the “PreparedBC: Houshold Preparedness Guide” (see link at end), filling in the blanks and building an emergency kit (see link at end). An excellent article is available on how to prepare your home for various natural disasters – please visit http://www.expertise.com/home-and-garden/home-preparation-for-natural-disasters
.Step 2: Meet your neighbours
Use the “In it Together: Neighbourhood Preparedness Guide” (link at end)) as an icebreaker and organize a get-together, like a BBQ or potluck. If you already have an active neighbourhood network in place - start there.
Suggested topics to discuss:
• Local hazards and risks
• Household Preparedness
• Neighbours with unique needs (who may need extra help)
• Skills and resources (who has first-aid skills, construction skills, a generator or chainsaw)
Step 3: Identify a safe meeting place
In an emergency, you, your family and neighbours should gather at a predetermined safe meeting point to evaluate the situation and what needs to be done.Step 4: Assign responsibilities
It can be difficult to think clearly during and immediately after a disaster. Assigning responsibilities in advance will enable a quicker and more coordinated response.
Step 5: Map your street
Use the grid at the centre of the “In it Together: Neighbourhood Preparedness Guide” (link at end) to map out:
• Participating homes
• Your safe meeting point
• Households that may require extra help
• Water, gas and electricity mains, and where they can be turned off
• Other key resources or vulnerabilities identified in your planningStep 6: Store your guide
Remove the map and contact details from the centre of the “In it Together: Neighbourhood Preparedness Guide” and store it with your household plan in an easy to access location. Ensure everyone in your group has a copy of the same information.Step 7: Keep in touch
Maintain the momentum by staying in contact with your neighbours:
Organize an annual street BBQ or potluck
Offer support during times of need or life changes, such as a new baby, a recent death or home renovations
Welcome new neighbours and share the planning
Step 8: Review and update
Identify someone to organize a get-together to review and update your neighbourhood plan each year.Stay Informed
Tune into your local radio station (CKTZ, 89.5FM) for updates and information. This is where you'll find out what's going on and where to go.Prepare yourself
Assemble your Grab and Go bag, and rehearse in your mind your household and neighbourhood plans. Be aware of the resources available in the Cortes Island community.Prepare your family
Help children and partners assemble their Grab and Go bags along with one for each of your pets. Jointly review the material provided by Prepared BC and get to know the volunteers in your community from Fire, Ambulance, ESS and amateur radio.Prepare your home
Review the eleven steps to a prepared household:
• Identify the risks for your region
• Complete the “PreparedBC: Household Emergency Plan” (link at end), and identify at least two out-of-area contacts
• Pick a meeting spot in case you're separated from family members
• Assign someone to collect your children from school or daycare if you can’t
• Identify what official sources you’ll get information from
• Learn how to turn off utilities
• Store enough emergency water for your family for a minimum of three days
• Store enough emergency food to support your family for a minimum of three days
• Identify any special needs, such as medications, baby formula or pet food, and make sure a proper supply is on hand
• Secure your space if you live in an area where earthquakes are a risk
• Create Grab and Go bags for every member of your household, including your pets!Prepare for your Pets
They're family members too! Steps to Pet Preparedness:
Step 1: Prepare your Home
Emergency preparedness begins at home.Step 2: Make a Pet Plan
Make a list of pet friendly family members and emergency numbers, then ensure everyone in your household has a copy of the “Pet Plan” (link at end). The list should also include your contact information and an out-of-area contact in case local phone and mobile networks are overwhelmed. Make sure your contacts has the most up-to-date information for all family members, whether they are furry, feathers, finned or scaled.Step 3: Pet Info
Gather the most recent information for all your pets and enter the details in the “Pet Plan”.Step 4: Vet Information
Similar to step 3, gather all the most recent veterinarian information for your pet. Include the contact for the nearest emergency vet clinic to your home.Step 5: Pack for your Pets
Make sure you have everything you need for your companion(s) in a Grab-and-Go bag:
• Leash, pet restraint, muzzle or harness
• Pet carrier
• Pet food for three days (or more)
• Water for three days (or more)
• Poop bags
• Collapsible food and water dishes
• Treats, a favourite toy and a small towel with your scent on it
• Waterproof backpack or bag for your pet supplies
• Copy of vaccination records
• Medications and basic pet first aid supplies
• Photos of your pet(s) with you and alone; they can be used for identification
Think ahead - you might need extra supplies based on what type of pet you have.
• Cats? You'll need a small container of cat litter and plastic bags
• Dogs? You'll need a roll of poop bags
• Reptiles? You may need a portable battery-operated heat lamp
• Birds? You might need cuttlebone and gritStep 6: Talk to your Neighbours
In case you are not home during an emergency, give a trusted friend or neighbour a key and let them know where your pet grab and go bag is located so they can bring it with your pet. Tell them where your pet is located and include any likely hiding sports as they may not behave in their usual way. Step 7: Be in the Know
If you use a kennel or daycare, find out what their emergency plan is. Stay up-to-date with your pet's medications. Talk to your local authorities to find out what organizations and resources are available in your area for animals during an emergency.
If you have large animals (such as horses or cows), consider removing animals from the area during an evacuation alert stage. They will need advanced consideration.Communicating during disasters
This is a very important section as we're all anxious to know what's going on and where people are. On Cortes, chances are very high that our home phones will be out of service, but if not, analog phones still work when your wireless handset does not. Pay phones tend to be more likely to operate in emergencies than home phones, so be sure to keep a stash of quarters just in case. If there's a province wide disaster, 911 probably won't be working – everyone will be trying to use it and the system will likely be overloaded. Reserve 911 for immediate life threatening situations.
If your cell phone is working, conserve the battery as much as possible. Shut down unneeded applications to keep the charge up.
A special note on VHF Marine and Amateur radio frequencies. Radio frequencies are regulated globally for important reasons – emergencies. What one person regards as an emergency may not be what is considered to be an emergency in the eyes of a trained radio operator or first responder. Radios are not like telephones – only one person can use a frequency at a time, and there are a limited number of frequencies available for use. What this means is that emergency communications are reliant on having clear frequencies and must be prioritized. If you need to use the radio because you're trapped on a beach and the fire is driving you into the water, you really want to be able to communicate without your transmission being interfered with. Is it more important to find Bob's dentures, or to get a helicopter over to airlift Grandpa who has just had a heart attack? Misuse of the radio airwaves can result in someone's death – that's why licensing is important. It is a part of both an amateur and marine VHF operator's training to recognize the importance of using a radio with responsibility and respect to others. This is critical for radio communications to be effective, and for the health and welfare of everyone in the community.
More information on communicating during disasters can be found at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc/communicating-during-disasters
If you've followed through this document and checked the Prepared BC website, you'll be well on your way to preparing for an island emergency and even an island wide evacuation. Remember to review your plans regularly – practice will mean that if the time comes, your responses will be automatic. Remember to breathe, be patient, and we, your Cortes Island community, will work together to get us all through. A final parting note on the value of preparedness… and a laugh.
Barry and I spent nearly 10 years sailing offshore. During my night watches, I used to play “what if”. It was a theoretical game of what I would do if such and such happened. What if the mast fell down. What would I do if the boat were knocked over on her side. What if Barry fell overboard? What would I do if….
Half way across the Pacific, on the way back from Rapa Nui, we came off of a 5-hour squall. The wind had died, but the swell was still pretty big. The jib had been furled as the wind was now very fluky, and we were running under mainsail alone. I was off shift, trying to get some much needed sleep when I was shaken awake by a loud bang, smash, pause, and then “why the &$!* on my shift!”.
The forestay (front wire) on the boat had snapped and the biggest sail with all the associated rigging came down. Fortunately, it all landed on deck (practically a miracle). Because of the repeated “what if” games, we were immediately able to secure the mast (which otherwise would have come down shortly after), secure everything aboard, pick up all lines out of the water to prevent tangling, and steady the boat. In the morning we were able to rig a temporary stay. Because we were prepared, and because we knew what to do immediately, all three crew members aboard were safe, healthy, and the boat was able to carry on the 2000 miles to the South America Coastline.
Because of preparedness, Barry and I are here to write you this article.Documentation links:Household Preparedness Guide:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/preparedbc/preparedbc_household_preparedness_guide_web_final_2015.pdfHousehold Emergency Plan:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/preparedbc/2015_household_emergency_plan_v03_web.pdfPet Plan:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/preparedbc/3748_preparedbc_prepareyourpets_print.pdfBasic Emergency Supply Kit:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-
recovery/embc/preparedbc/2015_equake_tsunami_kitcard_web.pdfBuild an Emergency Kit:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc/build-an-emergency-kit#grabandgoIn it Together: Neighbourhood Preparedness Guide:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparednes