British Columbia

Earthquake drill a dry run for B.C.'s 'Big One'

Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have taken part in a massive earthquake drill.

B.C. earthquake drill

11 years ago
Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians took part in a massive earthquake preparedness drill Wednesday, the CBC's Tim Weekes reports 2:11

Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians took part Wednesday in a massive earthquake drill.

More that 420,000 people signed up in advance for the exercise.

At exactly 10 a.m. PT, radio stations across the province sounded an alarm and thousands of students, office workers, even clergy and church-goers, ducked under desks, tables and other sturdy pieces of furniture and hung on for a minute to practise what to do when the so-called Big One hits.

Heather Lyle, co-chair of The Great British Columbia Shakeout, said this marks the first time a provincewide drill has been conducted, and the goal is to create awareness that bolting from a shaking building is the worst thing to do.

"When you try to quickly run out of a building, first of all an earthquake's gravity will pull you to the ground, but secondly fleeing a building … makes you vulnerable to things falling on top of you, being hit by flying debris," Lyle said.

Drill experience "awesome"

At Highlands Elementary School in North Vancouver, Grade 1 students have been practising scrambling under their desks for weeks in preparation  for Wednesday's drill. They described the drill experience as "awesome."

Principal Arlie Thompson said she'll keep on drilling her students on earthquake preparedness.

If an earthquake hits

  • Avoid windows, tall furniture and light fixtures.
  • Don't take the elevator. If you're in one, hit the button for every floor and get out as soon as you can.
  • Place a "help" sign in your window if you need assistance.

— Source: Government of Canada

"The more kids practise a drill, the better and more calmly they execute it. That's what we want in an emergency." Thompson said.

Elsa Carvajal, a Tsawassen woman who survived a massive earthquake in Mexico City in 1985, said such exercises are critical if people are to survive the initial tremors.

Carvajal said she nearly froze to death during the Mexico quake, which registered 8.1 on the Richter Scale, because she didn't know what to do.

B.C. selected Wednesday for the drill because it's the 311th anniversary of the largest quake in Canadian history – a magnitude 9 shaker that hit B.C. in 1700.

Prone to earthquakes

"The best thing to do is to stay where you are. If you're inside a building, stay there. If there is somewhere where you can drop, cover and hold on, great. If not, brace yourself against an interior wall. If you're outside, stay outside."

Although the last 9.0-magnitude quake in B.C. was in 1700, seismologists have warned that B.C. sits in a geological zone prone to earthquakes.

Many public buildings have been upgraded over the years to ensure that the kind of devastation Haitians have been suffering since an earthquake struck the island a year ago isn't likely on the same scale here. But the Haiti tragedy and others have raised awareness.

"There's been lots of natural disasters that have occurred elsewhere … so it's more on people's minds," Lyle said.

The number of those who registered makes up slightly more than 10 per cent of the province's population.

The drill is modelled after a similar exercise that's been used in California the last three years.

Hundreds of small quakes rock British Columbia every year.


With files from The Canadian Press