British Columbia

Pandemic's long lineups prove many aren't ready for major emergency, preparedness expert says

For 15 years, Jackie Kloosterboer has worked for the City of Vancouver to help convince residents that there is no time like the present when it comes to being prepared to deal with a major emergency such as an earthquake.

‘It really makes you think about what would happen in an earthquake,' Jackie Kloosterboer says

Jackie Kloosterboer, an emergency planner with the City of Vancouver, fears many residents aren't prepared for a major emergency. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For 15 years, Jackie Kloosterboer has worked for the City of Vancouver to help convince residents that there's no time like the present when it comes to being prepared to deal with a major emergency such as an earthquake.

The pandemic has provided her with insights into how prepared — or unprepared — people might be.

"Seeing people waiting in line to get the essentials really makes you think about what would happen in an earthquake," she said about the springtime rush on toilet paper and other essentials needed to hunker down at home.

The scenes of long lineups, she says, show that some residents just aren't prepared for a major emergency that might make it impossible to access certain things, including stores that have been open during the pandemic.

Scientists say there is a one in five chance of a magnitude 7.0 crustal earthquake happening close to Victoria and Vancouver in the next 50 years, which could damage bridges, roads and telecommunication systems.

"We're overdue for an earthquake," said Kloosterboer.

She encourages families this holiday season to talk about emergency preparedness plans, such as setting up meeting points if communications are cut, as well as making or purchasing two kits — one that can be grabbed on the way out of the homes, and another larger one that can help people sustain themselves at home in the absence of power, cellphone service or running water.

It's important to have at least 72 hours worth of supplies such as food, water, medicines and pet food on hand, but a week or more is even better.

Kloosterboer says seeing people scramble at the beginning of the pandemic was revealing about the level of this type of readiness.

"For me, it really shone a light on the importance of being prepared," she said.

"What a difference it would make to you and your family, and even for your pets, if you have those supplies in place before you're faced with it. Any kind of disaster, you are going to be much better off if you're prepared."

Stocked up but unprepared

In November, BC Hydro released a report that said 20 per cent of British Columbians feel more prepared for a storm-related power outage after stocking up on household supplies for COVID-19 — despite not having an emergency kit or plan.

The report, including a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, was called Stocked up but unprepared: How COVID-19 preparation has created a false sense of storm season security.

Data from the utility said there has been a 117 per cent increase in electricity-damaging storms in the province, from 52 in 2014 to an average of 113 in the past three years.

It says an average of a million customers are affected by storm-related outages annually.

Since the report was released, BC Hydro has been advocating for residents to prepared 72-hour emergency kits and make plans for what to do in the event of an outage.

Kits should include a first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food items, a flashlight and batteries, and a battery pack for your cell phone, along with other items.

The province's PreparedBC has detailed information on how to construct kits and come up with safety plans.


Fault Lines, a CBC original podcast, explores the potentially catastrophic effects of a massive earthquake on the West Coast of North America. Hosted by CBC senior meteorologist and seismology expert Johanna Wagstaffe, Fault Lines outlines emergency preparedness procedures and features an enactment of how this predicted natural disaster will impact British Columbians in the 24 hours, 72 hours, one month, one year following — and beyond.

Fault Lines is available for download at cbc.ca/podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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