British Columbia

How to survive a catastrophic earthquake in B.C.

Province making progress on response plans, but officials say expect to be on your own at least a week

October 14, 2016

Five years after a major earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, residents there are still recovering. How prepared are you to survive a major earthquake in B.C.? ((Mark Baker/Associated Press))

It took the better part of two decades — and two damning reports from the office of B.C.'s Auditor General — for the province to get serious about preparing for a catastrophic earthquake. 

And in the nearly three years since the last AG report, the province has made significant strides in its emergency planning.


But a lot of the details around things like how to move water and medical supplies post-disaster have yet to be worked out, which is why emergency planners now recommend that all of us be prepared to be on our own for at least a week, if not two. 

That means knowing the risks, building a kit, and making a plan for you and your family. 

Check your local community plan

Regionally, North Shore Emergency Management and the Capital Regional District have particularly comprehensive programs. Both are great resources, even if you live outside those regions. 

Provincially, Emergency Management BC is the body in charge in the event of a major earthquake. This is a good place for a broader overview of what to expect and what to plan for. 

And ShakeOut BC is packed with information — including what to do in a number of scenarios, whether you're on the road, taking in an evening of theatre, or lounging in a city park.

Putting together a list

Once you've had a read through, print off a list of things you'll need to do to get prepared. We've compiled a list of additional things to think about below, based on advice from experts in the field. 

Most emergency planners recommend you keep a grab-and-go bag for every member of the family — usually an old backpack left somewhere easy to access — as well as a larger bag tucked somewhere out of the way. Some also keep extra grab-and-go bags in the trunk of the car, in a garage, or at work. 

Build your kit 

Make a plan 

Earthquake-proof your home

Get to know your community

Know what to do when the shaking starts

Overall, experts say it's important to actually practise what to do in the event of an earthquake, so that it becomes automatic in a crisis.

"It's not enough to just think about where you're going to go in an earthquake," said Alison Bird, a seismologist with Earthquakes Canada.

"Because when you're in a stressful situation, your brain does not function properly, and you're not thinking about the right thing to do. If you don't practice, it's not going to happen."

And in the end, says Bird, no matter how prepared our governments are to respond to a disaster, we have a personal responsibility to be prepared so that we're able to take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities when the big one strikes.

This story is part of Fault Lines, a special CBC series on new thinking and new technology for predicting and surviving earthquakes in B.C. Find more information about our five-part podcast.

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