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COMMENTARY · 28th October 2012
Walter McFarlane
At 8:00 pm on October 27th, I was listening to people speak at the Haisla Recreation Centre. I had plans to meet up with friends afterwards and I wasn’t ready for what was about to occur. Shortly after Chief Jassee finished speaking, I could feel the floor moving beneath my feet.

It would later be described as a rolling earthquake which lasted about a minute. It was the first quake I ever noticed so the thought did not cross my mind until one of the people who I was sitting with pointed it out.

No one left the recreation centre until after the rolling. Marilyn Furlan noted the earthquake through the microphone and the festivities continued. I apologized to her for leaving but I needed to check in with the office and congratulated Chief G’psgolox on the recovery of the artifact.

I checked my phone as I left the Recreation Centre and got into my car. There were no bars. I stopped at the viewpoint just outside the village and checked again. There were still no bars.

I headed straight for the viewpoint in Kitimat to make my call. There were several vehicles already there. After making my call, I asked the other people at the viewpoint if there was anything information about the Earthquake. I was told Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated. It was all online.

With no way to verify, I headed to the Kitimat Fire Department, the emergency headquarters of our community, to get the words right from the horse’s mouth. A fire truck and an ambulance waited outside, ready to deploy. Inside, fire fighters were in the watch room, waiting, checking the net. They had heard no such order to evacuate Kildala.

It took me a little longer to get home than planned. I received several phone calls from friends who wanted to know what I had heard. Some were talking about evacuation. Others told me the phones were down following the quake. I learned none of them had been able to get through to the emergency line for further information.

It took some time for me to get to my computer and start checking for this evacuation notice.

My first stop was my inbox. Notta. Kitimat Daily? Nothing new. District of Kitimat Webpage? Nothing. Competition? As I write this at 3:12 in the morning, they still haven’t updated their local site on the quake. I turned on the local station. A retro hockey game was playing.

I received more calls about chaos at the gas pumps and about a long line of cars trying to get out of town.

It was 9:41 pm when we finally received a call from the District informing us we would be receiving a fax about the potential evacuation. It was a second hand press release, not from the District of Kitimat. I retyped it and put it on the site before proofreading it.

The release made it look like town wouldn't be touched.

As I was posting it, Channel 7 finally started covering the earthquake and threat of a tsunami… I heard one of the reporters I'd been sitting with in Kitamaat Village recounting what had happened. I received a phone call almost immediately from a friend asking me if my site was telling people to evacuate.

But the press release was vague. While it referred to the North Coast, it did not define it. From watching the news, I now know the North Coast is Rupert up.

The second fax came in. I checked the website which the information came from. It was down. Then an update on the news. Then the tsunami was reduced to an advisory. I missed the memo. A paper jam ate the last two faxes.

The truth of the matter is, there was little communication. Between vague press releases, archaic forms of communication, miss-communication and many other factors, this earthquake created a chaotic nightmare…

… and from what I’ve heard, no one was hurt. Given the response time, it is a miracle.

This was a test of our emergency responder’s ability to communicate with the public. If this had been an actual emergency, we’d probably be dead by now.
Comment by Carol on 1st November 2012
Earthquake in Kitimat just a good warning that we need to be prepared with supplies for at least 3 days, I think a week is better. Not everyone has a computer but I typed in "earthquake in Kitimat BC "and found all the up to date info on quake. Where is happened, the size and the areas hit.
Got your Emergency Kit ???? better do it now ! while this earthquake is fresh in out minds.
Thank you Walter
Comment by Linda Halyk on 31st October 2012
The Mayor was able to contact via phone the Media CBC but have not heard if she was in contact with the people of Kitimat. No one on facebook or on Kitimat Daily that night had anything reported from Council.

getting 5 minutes of fame on TV more important than making contact in the town.
Good summary write up of the events
Comment by Larry Walker on 28th October 2012
Thanks Mr. McFarlane..for continuing to ask all the hard questions that we all want and need the answers to.
Do some homework
Comment by Walter on 28th October 2012
Are you talking about those volunteers who make the big money working for the District of Kitimat as well?

No information is just as bad as misinformation as people easily jump to conclusions.

When I started getting press releases last night, I looked for the webpages where they came from and found they weren't even working properly.

If you want to see an example of what I'm talking about in this article, consider it only takes a minute to prepare a memo that reads: "Don't panic. Here is what to do to get ready in case there is an evacuation. Stand by for more information." and send it to the media, post it on the District of Kitimat Website, related Kitimat Facebook pages, etc.

I'm saying our systems need improvement.
Do some math
Comment by Campion on 28th October 2012
Hmmm folks Tsunami's travel at over 500mph.
Given the distance from the western side of Haida Gwai to Kitimat lets say a generous 200 mi, any Tsunami would be here before the KFD got there boots on.
If the newly found Kitimat fault lets go we will probably have seconds.
We live in an earthquake zone, it's a fact of life except it.
Stop blaming great people who are mostly volunteers, it took me all of a minute to find the NOAA site.
They had up to date information on wave size etc. all media chose to ignore it to get a good story.
Note the wave height expected in Hawaii and what CNN and others were saying.

I was following the Global blog, it was hilarious, someone saying "water rising by the minute in Prince Rupert", um there was a rising 6m tide.
Another" just spoke to my brother in Rupert harbor is drying up".
Bottom line is relax everyone, stop the irrelevant crap about why we weren't told anything, it was because there was nothing to say! It was all over by the time the Emergency Response Team was assembled.
A 0.7 ft wave hit Langara Pt. at 21:07. 61 mins after the quake. A lot farther away than Kitimat.
If it really bothers you, move to Whitesail or Nechako.....

Comment by Gord Hamer on 28th October 2012
I agree this situation was handled poorly by the emergency services. When experts give a Tsunami Warning it should not be up to the locals to decide whether to respond or not. The warning was downgraded to an advisory around 11:30 pm. If it takes the experts that long how come our local seismologists can do it in a matter of minutes.
Emergency preparedness.
Comment by Daniel Carter on 28th October 2012
This was an alert and was not a practice. Communications did go down for a short time. We have radio, and still had internet and television. the only evacuations I heard were to keep people away from the tidal areas such as marinas and docks and as far as I heard, this was heeded. IF Kildala area were to be evacuated, the message would have been emergency vehicles sounding alarms and messages on bull horn speakers as well as messages on any media that was available such as radio and television. There would have been sufficient time to have people notified. The PEP and local emergency preparedness team did their job well not to panic the community with unnecessary and premature mass evacuations. In my opinion, I would wholeheartedly rely on our local emergency team. Nothing came of it so there was no evacuation alarm. I would say that is a job well done.
emergency response team??
Comment by ejs on 28th October 2012
where was the emergency response team in Kitamaat and Kitimat?? everyone running around with their heads cut off trying to figure out what to do, evacuate or not?? with the phone lines out, people were trying to find out if their loved ones were ok, thank god for facebook people were able to find out immediately if everyone was ok who checked to make sure everyone was ok? I know I did with my family, but what about the elders with no vehicle? or people with disabilitiies that had no access to phones or internet? it was very scary i would hate to see what happens the next time an earthquake or tsunami hits if no emergency response is in place