Emergency preparedness and Downtown’s missing hospital-in-a-box

May 11, 2010 at 12:30 am 2 comments

In this Vibrant Victoria article I look into disaster preparedness; specifically the most likely of scenarios: a catastrophic earthquake.


Rob Johns has a tough task.

As Emergency Coordinator for the City of Victoria, it’s his job to educate local politicians and citizens on surviving a major disaster. The tough part is getting Victorians to take emergency preparedness seriously. Emergency Preparedness Week (May 3 – 8, 2010) was created to bring awareness to the issue.

Unlike calamity-prone states like Florida and California, southwest British Columbia has been relatively disaster-free in modern times. The last major conflagration in Downtown Victoria affecting multiple structures was the massive Five Sisters Block fire 100 years ago. Unfamiliarity to disaster gives way to complacency and Johns feels the lack of preparedness and dearth of trained post-disaster volunteers means Victorians could be in for a tough time after a major quake or other disaster.

Quake Risk

Most experts seem to think a major subduction quake—the type of long, rolling shaker that causes catastrophic damage—has about an 11 per cent chance of occurring in this region within our lifetime. And Johns says a new report due for release later this year states the most likely target on Vancouver Island is the Victoria region.

The Victoria Emergency Management Agency maintains a website with tips on what to do before, during and after an emergency. Households should plan for a couple of days of self-sufficiency. In the event communication lines are disrupted and relatives are unable to contact each other VEMA recommends families set up an in-town meeting place and an out-of-town contact number.

Is Downtown Prepared?

Scattered throughout various locations in the Victoria area are eight shipping containers, each filled with a variety of items essential following a major catastrophe—50 cots, 100 blankets, lighting, a generator, and basic first-aid gear. One on Menzies Street in James Bay is known for its colourful mural. Two are in Victoria West in the event the Johnson Street Bridge is unable to serve as an emergency supply route. One container was located beside the Northern Junk buildings on Wharf Street until it was relocated to Topaz Park in Saanich several months ago following complaints about the area around the container being a magnet for social disorder and the inability to find a suitable alternate location nearby. Although Downtown has lost its container, Johns is quick to point out planners intend that help will be no more than a ten-minute walk away for most residents. The exact location of any triage centres won’t be publicized before a disaster, as officials don’t want people congregating at a structure that could be structurally unsound. Instead, Johns strongly suggests residents invest in a battery or wind-up powered radio for official updates on where to go if aid is needed.

For more information on emergency preparedness go to the website of the Provincial Emergency Program or the City of Victoria’s VEMA page.

Copyright © 2010 by VibrantVictoria.ca. All rights reserved.

Entry filed under: City Hall, Uncategorized.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yule Heibel  |  May 16, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Did you see Shake Rattle and Roll, the NYTimes article written by an engineer who makes earthquakes his specialty? The author makes some scary assessments about our region…

    The worst part is the assessment of codes.

    I’ve been getting some emails from an acquaintance who has been attending Esquimalt Emergency Preparedness workshops. He claims they kick ass (and have him quite concerned), while Victoria is asleep at the wheel in comparison (according to him).

  • 2. Yule Heibel  |  May 16, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Sorry, the article is called “Shake, Rattle, Seattle,” but the link is the same and should work. ;-)


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