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REPORTING · 11th November 2012
Walter McFarlane
The topic of the Earthquake on October 27th is still fresh in people’s minds. The emergency responders in Kitimat are looking into their options. The week before the Council Meeting on Monday, November 5th, we had an opportunity to talk to Municipal Manager, Ron Poole about the discussions concerning the Earthquake.

“We did a post mortem on Monday, because I think one of the big issues that came out of that was the communications. Following that, there seemed to be a lot of information out there, some wasn’t reliable. I think it took an hour before we actually got our first information bulletin from PEP. Of course, when something happens that close, there is always the big issue of: ‘how should we be responding,” said Poole.

They found they did not have a good communications plan. It talks about media releases and getting notices out. Poole stated they need to have a much quicker response. He expressed the plan needs to be updated, revised and it also needs to be brought into the 21st century, by including social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Poole expressed they have not been able to find any visible damage on any of the municipal buildings. But had not done a full scale review.

Poole stated the people of Kitimat need to be prepared for an emergency.

“It was a good test. What it tested was the communication system, because we didn’t really activate our EOC. It was in the preliminary stages of making that decision. To me, an adequate test would be a full activation of the EOC,” said Poole.

Poole expected it would be brought up at the Council Meeting on Monday, November 5th. At the meeting, Acting Mayor Rob Goffinet brought forward the Earthquake under new business. Council received a letter in their information only packages from Ministry of Justice concerning the Earthquake.

The letter wished to seek information from the Emergency Coordinators who were directly impacted by the quake in order to enhance their operations and their response.

“’Events like this present all levels of Government with a learning opportunity,’” read Goffinet. “It encourages us to review the letter with our Emergency Program Coordinator and to enter into discussions about emergency plans in place within the District of Kitimat.”

Poole told Council the letter had been turned over to the emergency coordinator. A request was made for Fire Chief Trent Bossence to provide a report to Council. Bossance thanked McLeod for doing a good job preparing for an emergency, and then moving the plan forward that night.

“The OC was opened almost immediately upon the Earthquake finishing its shaking. Myself, my Deputy Chief and the Emergency Coordinator, Mr. McLeod did show here at the fire hall. Opened up the Emergency Centre right away and started putting all the information we could gather together to formulate a plan and follow the plan that we had already laid out in our books,” said Bossence.

He explained they had to gather information from more than just one source. They were talking with the Fire Chief Prince Rupert as knowing what was going on there would let them know what would happen here in Kitimat.

The information they received was to notify any structure which was below the high tide mark to potentially evacuate. They went above and beyond and notified those who were close to the high tide mark.

Bossence told the Council no one in Kitimat lives below the high tide mark, but the marinas are so they were notified through the Regional District.

“The one thing that we did learn very quickly was social media. How it could work for us as well as against us. In this sense, there was a lot of misinformation going out through social media and it essentially flooded our phone lines here at the Fire hall,” said Bossence. “Misinformation is worse than no information at all in our opinion and we felt there was no need to alert anybody that the potential tsunami was coming. The information we were getting told us there was no risk to the people of Kitimat at that point.”

The event came to an end and they stuck around until midnight. They had a debriefing and they are due for another debriefing next week and fix the potential problems.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff asked what would change if they are faced with a similar event in the future. Bossence stated they will be communicating more, but they will be looking at it with Emergency Planner Bob McLeod and other staff members. The phones were flooded with hundreds of calls in a short time line.

“If there is a good thing about an earthquake, nobody was hurt, no structures were damaged and we can take away from it a positive on how we can fix it, how we can make the next event better,” said Bossence.

Councillor Phil Germuth suggested using the District Website. Bossence stated he would look into the District Webpage, the Emergency Plan Webpage and a Fire Hall webpage as well as Facebook page to let people know. He also suggested texting and twittering people. There are other ways to get the message out through social media. Manpower is perhaps the biggest problem.

Councillor Edwin Empinado asked if the lessons will be brought to Council. Bossence replied the response will be brought to Council. Goffinet stated they will be looking at the conclusions and deliberations.