British Columbia

Canadian Forces prepping for megathrust earthquake on the West Coast

Royal Canadian Navy Captain Steve Jorgensen says the Canadian Forces are prepared for disaster — but 'no plan survives first contact with the enemy'.

'We've planned for that, but there's a saying in the military no plan survives first contact with the enemy'

Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) team members responded to the Nepal earthquake in 2015 (CBC)

The Canadian Forces already have plenty of experience providing relief from natural disasters around the world.

That work includes responding to earthquakes and typhoons in countries such as Nepal, Haiti, and the Philippines in recent years.

But military officials are also preparing to respond to major disasters close to home — including 'The Big One' — the megathrust quake that could strike the West Coast at any time.

This week, Canadian Forces members from Kingston, Ont., are on Vancouver Island training for deployment with the Disaster Assistance Response Team which responds to international crises.

Royal Canadian Navy Captain Steve Jorgensen is the Esquimalt-based officer in charge of implementing the domestic disaster response plan called "Operation Panorama." He spoke with On the Island host Gregor Craigie:

What types of disaster does the military predict it might have to deal with?

We've all planned for the full spectrum of disaster, from a small earthquake in a remote area of British Columbia to a massive earthquake in our worst case scenario that devastates Victoria and Vancouver.

We've also planned for floods, forest fires, air and maritime disasters.

A New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue worker walks through the central business district during a search of earthquake damaged buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013. ((Mark Baker/Associated Press))

After an earthquake, how soon could the military be ready to launch into action?

Immediately. Local commanders are authorized without any further orders to do what they can in their immediate area to prevent loss of life and reduce suffering.

Immediately after the devastation, Armed Forces members of course are going to personally make sure their family members are safe.

(Then) they report into their units and the units take stock of who they've got and then those units report in to the headquarters.

Debris crushes a car outside the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral after an earthquake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011. The crustal earthquake only registered a 6.3 on the Richter scale, but was only five kilometres beneath the surface of the earth. (David Wethey/NZPA/Associated Press)

What kinds of things can you help with if asked?

It could go from a small unit assisting with clearing debris to heavy equipment.

The most important asset are the people. These are Canadians who live in the community here on Vancouver Island and they're able to dig in and assist going door to door…we've got 5,000 to 6,000 Canadian Armed Forces members, regular and reserve forces, here in the province.

If there's a devastating earthquake and buildings are collapsing, would you anticipate that your own assets would be damaged?

Certainly with the worst case scenario … where the devastation is throughout Victoria and Vancouver, obviously we've not immune to that, we've planned for that, but there's a saying in the military that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

This is because of all the intangibles and the unknowns and the limited warning we'll get in the case of an earthquake.

What about a tsunami? Would the navy have a specific plan for helping its own members and assets and also the civilian population?

Obviously if the earthquake hits here in Victoria, Vancouver, in all likelihood there's going to be a tsunami very shortly thereafter. So probably the ships that are in port aren't going to be able to get out to sea to avoid it.

If it's a tsunami that comes from an earthquake further away and depending on what the prediction is and how much warning we get, we would try to sail the fleet.

We've got something we call disaster pack-up kits. So we would make sure the ships take these disaster pack-up kits, get out and then they can reach remote areas or come back to Victoria if they had to, to assist in the recovery.

With files from On the Island