Earthquake Preparedness: Part One

The Big One. Common definition? A catastrophic earthquake.

The Big One. My definition? Getting your family ready for it. Sounds daunting, I know. It's that chore at the bottom of the list. That chore that gets passed over for really important jobs like organizing the kitchen junk drawer.

But it doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. Just follow these four simple steps -- know the risks, have a plan, build an emergency kit and seismically secure your home. Not easy enough? I've broken it down even further in the series Earthquake Preparedness: Parts One, Two and Three. Let's start by talking risk.

Risky business

More than 3,000 small quakes occur in BC each year. What does that mean for you? Eventually one of them will be the “big one”. In the past 300 years we’ve had five quakes between the magnitudes of 7.3 and 9.0. Scientists believe there’s a one in 10 chance another major subduction quake will occur in the next 50. If you’re a betting gal, those are pretty good odds.

Depending on where you live, the specific risks and impacts will vary. If your home is in Metro Vancouver, shaking and infrastructure damage will be your primary concerns. If you live along exposed coastline, tsunamis are a worry. In that case you need to know what tsunami zone you're in, what the different alert levels mean and what your community response plan is.

Planning makes perfect

Print a copy of the PreparedBC DIY Household Emergency Plan (PDF, 1.9MB) and fill in the blanks with the key topics below. Yep, that's it. Keep it in an accessible spot. Better yet, make a copy and store it in your emergency kit.

1. Communication is key

Make a master list of family and emergency numbers and put it in your plan. It should include out-of-province contacts in case local phone calls are impossible. Long distance ones may still get through, giving separated family members a place to check in. Just remember, keep calls short to reduce network congestion. Better yet, use text messaging, email or social media. Data-based services are less likely to experience major interruptions.

2. Where will you meet?

Decide in advance. For our family, it’s my six-year-old’s school. If my hubby and I are at work and can’t connect, the first step is to make our way to her. Other good options are to rally at a central community centre or library. Run a few scenarios based on where you most commonly are during the day and decide on the best location.

If you have young kids, you also need to consider what happens if you can’t make it to their school or daycare. Identify people who can fill in. I’ve asked neighbours who live close to school and are typically home during the day. This increases the likelihood they’ll be able to get my girl if damage is extensive and roads impassable.

3. Smell rotten eggs?

Even if everyone’s at home during an earthquake, you should still be ready to act quickly. Do you know where your electrical panel, water and gas valves are located? Do you know how to turn utilities off if necessary? Can you find your fire extinguisher or emergency kit in a hurry? This should all be identified in your plan and shared with your family.

4. Paper chase

This one’s for you über organized types. Make copies of important paperwork, such as birth certificates, wills, passports and insurance information, collect them in a folder and store it in a secure, but easily accessible place. If systems are down after a quake, having these documents will you get back on track faster. It also doesn’t hurt to have recent pictures of your family in the package.

5. Share the love

Once you’ve finished your plan, share it with your family — often. Quiz your kids on their emergency contact information, run through where everyone is supposed to meet, do a household disaster tour and go over where everything’s kept.