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BC's first ever full-scale earthquake response drill begins today

Last Updated Jun 7, 2016 at 7:44 am PST

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In event of earthquake, 'your neighbours are suddenly going to be your best friends': seismologist

PORT ALBERNI (NEWS 1130) – It’s a day that could prove vitally important for emergency crews in the event of a major earthquake on the West Coast.

Today marks the start of the four-day Exercise Coastal Response on Vancouver Island, the province’s first ever full-scale earthquake mock disaster.

The drill, which costs $1.2 million to stage, is based on a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hitting off the shore of southwestern BC as a result of a rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

It will also involve coordination between various levels of government, first responders, and planners — including BC’s Mobile Medical Unit and Vancouver’s Heavy Urban Search And Rescue (HUSAR).

“They’re really helpful. They’re mostly for first responders and cognitive agencies that are going to be doing things at higher levels like an event like this. So this is mostly training for them rather than for individuals,” says Dr. Chris Goldfinger, a seismologist at Oregon State University (OSU).

Exercise Coastal Response also dovetails with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Cascadia Rising, which is simulating emergency response coordination across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho at the same time.

“They’re super useful. Nobody is going to really know what to do unless there’s a plan — unless they’ve practiced it and it becomes muscle memory. You can’t get that from a manual. You have to practice that,” says Goldfinger, one of the foremost experts on the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The actual exercise will be a mix of real-time activities and simulated situations.

Goldfinger says the actual physical deployment couldn’t be more important for first responders. But he adds it’s also a great time to make sure you’re prepared.

“Most of the things that you do to prepare are really more about preparedness than what you do during an earthquake.”

He points out one of the most important things you can do is get to know your neighbours.

“Your neighbours are suddenly going to be your best friends. A lot of the things that are going to happen in the minutes, hours and days after a big earthquake are all going to involve people that are right around you,” says Goldfinger.

BC Emergency Preparedness Minister Naomi Yamamoto says holding the mock disaster is key to keeping people alert and aware of the potential for disaster.

“The $1.2-million investment in Exercise Coastal Response allows us to test the BC Earthquake Immediate Response Plan, which is a framework for how the province would lead and collaborate with multiple stakeholders in the event of a catastrophic earthquake.”