If an earthquake was to shake this part of the world today, Sarah Wu might be a person you’d want to have by your side.
Wu is a volunteer with the city’s emergency preparedness program and is trained on what to do in case the “big one” rocks Vancouver, an event seismologists have predicted for years.
“I would be there to make sure people don’t panic,” said Wu, who is trained on how to set up a reception centre for evacuees and organize volunteers in the event of a disaster.
She teaches people how to be safe before, during and after an earthquake. She can speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin and is handy with a portable radio, which she used proficiently at last Saturday’s Celebration of Light fireworks display in English Bay.
“I dragged my husband along with me and he’s now hooked, too,” said Wu, who likened her role that night to an ambassador. “Where’s the washroom? Where’s the barge? Which radio station do I listen to? Those are the kinds of questions you get.”
Saturday’s fireworks event was the first run for the newly created Vancouver Volunteers Corps, which began a recruiting drive Wednesday via a press conference at city hall with Mayor Gregor Robertson.
The mayor and City of Vancouver wants to recruit hundreds of volunteers who can be called upon to work major civic events and in emergencies such as a natural disaster.
The need for a dedicated roster of volunteers was one of the recommendations in the independent Stanley Cup riot review co-authored by former CEO of VANOC John Furlong and former Nova Scotia deputy attorney general, Douglas Keefe.
That recommendation coincided with council’s direction following the 2010 Winter Games for staff to develop a program that builds on the renowned “blue jacket” volunteers during the Olympics.
“We are a city that needs to be ready for an earthquake at any time,” the mayor said. “This is a key piece for us to ensure that we have many citizens who know what to do when the ‘big one’ hits and can step up and support all of our first responders who are undoubtedly going to be besieged if there’s a big natural disaster here.”
Deputy fire chief Mark Engler echoed the mayor’s sentiments about an overwhelmed fire department in the event of a disaster and hoped the recruiting drive would also attract people who want to belong to a more highly trained volunteer group of 100 citizens called the Vancouver Emergency Response Team.
Engler and the mayor clarified that despite the training of volunteers, which includes advanced radio training and counting casualties, none will be used to replace the work of a police officer or firefighter.
“These people are not designated to go into buildings or on dangerous sites, they’re strictly to walk the streets of their own communities and then to report in what they see,” Engler said.
Gord Ditchburn, president of the Vancouver Firefighters’ Union, said he hadn’t seen the city plan for training to understand the exact role of a volunteer.
“Until then, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Ditchburn, who attended Wednesday’s press conference at city hall. “It’s fair to say that in a natural disaster or a major catastrophe that everybody would be helping everybody. But to what level the citizens will be expected to provide assistance, is yet to be seen and I don’t believe for a second that you can replace well-trained firefighters, police and city workers.”
The cost this year of the volunteer program is $25,000, including the purchase of vests, water bottles, a manual and identification.