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REPORTING · 31st October 2012
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat Emergency Social Services held a meeting to recruit new members on Monday, October 29th. Once the recruitment was out of the way, the question of choice was Saturday Night’s Earthquake and what could be done better. Bob McLeod, the Kitimat Emergency Plan Coordinator certainly expressed frustration going back to October 7th.

“October 7th, I took 4000 brochures down to the post office to mail out to the residents of Kitimat,” said McLeod. “I had people coming to me on Sunday saying: ‘what are we going to do for an Earthquake Kit. It is really, really difficult to keep people interested. Right now, people are interested. A week later, it will go by the board.”

On Saturday night, he went online right away to get information. He then went up to the Public Safety Building where the Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief were also trying to get information. They were joined by Staff Sergeant Steve Corp along with representatives from the Kitimat Modernization Project and Rio Tinto Alcan to seek information.

“The usual method of disseminating the information, it comes from the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning System. Goes to Victoria, Victoria gives it too the Geo-physical specialists and they will confirm or deny whatever the information is. Then it goes to CAP and they shoot it out to all coastal communities. In this case, we didn’t see a hell of a lot of it,” said McLeod.

He said they were looking at many different sources and trying to determine how reliable they are. He was finally able to get information at a quarter to nine. The information was there but was not sent out. They had a good network going between Emergency Coordinators in the region and were working close with Prince Rupert, because if there was an issue, Rupert would get it before Kitimat would.

He suggested the best way to determining what a tsunami would look like is to check the tide. A high tide would be different than a low tide. There was a low tide during the warning. He also suggested an earthquake indicates people should seek out higher ground if they are on a beach.

“It was just a matter of trying to gather information, keeping track of what people were doing and feeding information to the people who needed it,” said McLeod.

In the case of an emergency evacuation, they would start in the lowest areas of the community and work their way up in a controlled manner to avoid panic and chaos. The only method which works is to send out emergency personal in emergency vehicles street by street broadcasting the announcement to head to higher ground.

Sirens were found to be useless in the modern age because houses in the 50’s and 60’s had single pain glass, poor insulation, and did not have the ambient noise today’s houses do. A phone fan out wouldn’t solve anything because most of the time, the calls go to voice mail. Radio is not the answer because sometimes, they could not access a radio wave.

People also need to be aware. McLeod said he has never felt anything like he did on Saturday so hopefully, it will get people to think about emergency preparedness, such as an Earthquake kit and a plan.

Marilyn Furlan stated she was disappointed that night because there was no place for people who had evacuated to go. She suggested opening up the high school. McLeod said they were in contact with Kitamaat Village all night and nobody told them there were people coming to Kitimat.

Furlan stated the Elders, even the ones who live in Kitimat had nowhere to go. McLeod stated if the need was there, the High School would have been opened. He explained if people react all the time, people are told because to evacuate when there is no danger, they stay put.

Furlan stated fear is an awful thing to feel when there is nowhere to go. It was suggested by the others attending that she start an Emergency Social Services group in Kitamaat. McLeod argued that if someone decided to leave their home in an emergency, how would anyone know to put them up. In a controlled evacuation, they would be instructed on where to go and there would be a method in place to move people with mobility issues. However, there would have to be a structure for people to be received.

McLeod also stated they would not be able to take over a building, such as a high school, on a whim that people might drop by. However, if there was an evacuation in progress, they could take over that building if needed.

He suggested throwing the idea out there at a future meeting.

There was also a suggestion to put a buoy out in Douglas Channel to measure whether or not there is a wave coming. McLeod told everyone they have been tested and probably would not work.

It was expressed that for the first 72 hours in a really big emergency, neighbours would be looking after neighbours until help could get to you or get you to an emergency centre. In Masset, after the first quake, people were going door to door to check on their neighbours.

Some of the people who volunteered with ESS expressed they had no way of being contacted. McLeod expressed the easiest way would be to send people door to door because if there is no power, there is no email, Twitter or Facebook. Each event has to play out by its own circumstances.

It was suggested releasing information to the newspapers as to whether or not there is an evacuation. McLeod replied they are working with Gwen Sewell at the District of Kitimat to make sure more information like this gets out there.

He suggested that if information is delivered to the public every week, people will stop seeing it. Walter McFarlane shared his recap of the night and how information was not readily available. He referred to a Facebook post being passed around Skidegate after the aftershock.

“It was a message saying: ‘Don’t panic. These are the things you are going to need to get ready in case we have to move to higher ground again, stay tuned for further information, that kind of thing.’ I found the night of the earthquake, no information was just as bad as wrong information,” said McFarlane.

McLeod replied it is all about interpretation. If parts of town were evacuated and nothing happened, they would be hung out to dry. They have to do the right thing and the right thing is saving people. Their job in ESS is not helped by someone going around in Kildala banging on doors telling people they have to get out now. McLeod stated he believed this person spent the night in the lock up.

He also said people were on Facebook saying Alcan has been evacuated and they are evacuating Kildala. He said it would be generous to call it misinformation.

“It was a blatant lie and that does not help. And the misinformation going out there is not helping. You’ve got to try and set up a stream of how you are going to get information out to people. It is a valid point, the District Website, a Facebook page. Something like that which could get information out. If the power goes out, where are you going to get that?” asked McLeod.

Earlier in the meeting, he pointed out: “Whenever one of these things happens, you’re going to have people reacting in ways that are sometimes not for the common good. When people start spouting off about Alcan being evacuated, Kildala being evacuated, all they’re doing is creating a panic. We do have an evacuation plan and if the need is there to exercise it, we are going to exercise it.”

Reporter Robin Rowland expressed Text Messaging was the best way to keep in touch with people when the power is out. It was discovered during Katrina that if someone got an active tower, they would receive all their texts even if they do not have a voice.

“There are many ways of getting it out and a part of our discussion today was: ‘How do we accomplish this in a reasonable manner so factual information goes out without all of the guessing,’” said McLeod.

Other people who were present told stories about how they were contacted by friends or loved ones on Facebook expressing how they were told to evacuate. McLeod said the Province was being attacked over their lack of information.

“You learn from every event. It doesn’t matter if it’s a search and rescue event or an ESS Response. You are always going to learn. You have to take the lessons learned and put them into something productive,” concluded McLeod.

He stated he met with District Administration and hoped in the future, there would be something which would help. They were supportive and see the need.

We talked with Fire Chief Trent Bossence concerning the earthquake the following day, October 30th. He expressed the 7.7 earthquake was felt across most of the Province.

“The shaking took place and the guys, they did the normal procedures, they took cover and waited for it to end. From there, they went out and moved trucks outside of the bay for the aftershocks and post collapse,” said Bossence. The Firefighters assessed the building for damage first. Seeing none, they started calling responders in.

The Kitimat Emergency Operations Centre was opened up in the Firehall and they started looking for information on the Quake. The normal sources of information had nothing to report so they started digging into their secondary sources. They found lots of information and started planning from there.

“For me, the biggest learning curve on this one was the fact that everybody needs to understand and everybody needs to know this happens. It’s very real. It happened close to home and we live in an area where we’re prone to Earthquakes,” said Bossence.

He said we are fortunate the fault lines move back and forth rather than up and down. From his understanding, the chances of a tsunami are diminished. Bossence stressed people need to be prepared with emergency kits available, store medications in a kit which can be quickly grabbed and taken in the case of an evacuation.

“The other learning curve we got was the impact of social media and how it could work for as well as against. The wrong information can run rampant as well as the right information can run rampant on it. Can we use social media to our advantage to get the messages and get information out to the media?” asked Bossence.

He explained they turned to the Kitimat Daily Website to get the message out quickly, but will be reviewing avenues for future notifications, such as Facebook. Bossence can understand the frustration of the lack of knowledge getting out to the public. They adapted to the site they usually use not having any information.

We asked Bossence: when people should be evacuated. He expressed they can work out well or they could work out poorly. The best way to evacuate is to wait for the evacuation order. This is best when something happens far away which could affect Kitimat. This way, there is a plan to follow.

However, in the case of something more immediate, such as a landslide into the Douglas Channel, then people should not wait and get to higher ground.

“If there is a way that we could evacuate orderly, then we will do it. If you have to get to higher ground and get there quickly, it’s something you have to do as well,” said Bossence.

The Kitimat Fire Department is reminding people to be prepared in case the worst does happen. Have an emergency kit prepared and ready to go.

As for McLeod, he stood there for the entire time and listened to what the people gathered had to say. When he was done, he promised he would express the concerns he was given to make sure it was addressed. He could not promise it would be addressed satisfactorily. It would be up to the powers that be to make the decision.
Comment by CC on 3rd November 2012
To Daniel - you are absolutely right. After the World War Ii the fear was that if there were another war that this would be a reason for a direct attack on the smelter - for the aluminum & having such a facility. When WWII was occuring every scrap of metal was collected and used to build aircraft, bullets, etc. Sorry, that was where my mind was when I wrote that. As for the subs it was a huge rumor and based on fishing fleets that witnessed the subs. At the time enemy subs & ships were spotted off the coast of Prince Rupert. In June 1942 enemy shells fell on Cdn soil for the first time - a Japanese sub surfaced off Vancouver Island and fired on Estevan Pot Lighthouse. At the time there was great concern that subs would sneak up the Juan de Fuca, Burrard Passages as well as even the Skeena River. On the Skeena, at Tyee it was expected this is where an attack would be most likely. The Skeena rail line was vital in moving troops/supplies and an armoured train was built to move troops/supplies to Prince Rupert. In June 1942 the Japanese landed on the Aleutian Islands and an attack was thought imminent. An RCAF stn, Terrace, 1943 - 1945, had a pop. of 3,500 troops. There were RCAF stns also in Smithers, Bella Bella, military forts built on Digby and Kaien Islands. I have only mentioned but a sprinkle of all such sites along the coast. The entire coast of BC, extending down to the coast of Oregon and California were vital points due to ports (Prince Rupert) (and now Kitimat) and largely non defended since the war was occuring on the other side of Canada, so to speak, leaving Canada vulnerable to some extent. My point was only to point out the air raid sirens and what their intent was on top of natural disaster reasons (fear after the war being that now Kitimat was a big red "x" on the Canadian map). Apparently the Kitimat hospital has a siren that can be used. However not everyone has access to the interet, tv, news (disabilities, low income) and there's nothing like waking up in the middle of the night when you are unawares to an alert. And considering the fact that it has been discovered that there is a major seismic fault in the Douglas Channel this now only adds to any concerns one might have about natural disasters. It's fine to think one isn't directly involved when there may be a 7.7 earthquake occuring on Haida Gwaii BUT now Kitimat has it's very own seismic fault line and it's in your own backyard. And so an immediate warning system should be in place for all inhabitants of the city and not just Kildala. Will someone living in Cable Car hear the hospital siren? Just something to think about. Yes, I still think sirens are necessary.
Comment by Daniel Carter on 2nd November 2012
There was no aluminum smelter here in WWII. There was no actual townsite either aside from Kitimaat Mission. Not sure about the subs though..
Comment by CC on 2nd November 2012
I agree with Walker. When I was a kid there were tall green siren posts throughout Kitimat. Did you know that during WWII Kitimat was on the map to be struck by enemy forces BECAUSE Kitimat had an aluminum smelter and we had submarines in the channel? This is part of Kitimat's history. With the potential for war in this up and down world it would be stupid to assume Kitimat will never be in the same situation again. For those that need to know there is a rumor that there is an underground bunker in the old mall at the Nechako "mall". With the potential for any kind of emergency why wouldn't any town have such a warning system? Long gone are the days of the town cryer.
I disagree....a siren is still a good idea
Comment by Larry Walker on 31st October 2012
What was the 1st thing you did when your house was being tossed up and probably opened your front door, turned on the outside light and looked up and down the block to see what in the devil was happening. At that point you could have and would have heard a siren and packed up the dog and kids and struck out for higher ground. Come on people.....this is not rocket science.

ps...would suggest the siren be solar powered and have a generator back up just...just in case the power went out like our phones did.