Vancouver schools are better prepared to handle the aftermath of an earthquake than a few years ago, but more work needs to be done, according to a draft report on earthquake preparedness released last week.
A 2008 report, written by Patti Bacchus, who was then the District Parent Advisory Council's representative on the emergency preparedness planning committee, found significant holes in the board's emergency planning.
It revealed principals were asked not to assign school-based search and rescue teams for the 2007/2008 school year, despite having done so in previous years.
Instead, if a disaster traps children inside school buildings, school officials were told to wait outside until fire and rescue officers arrive. In a major earthquake, that could take more than three days. Emergency supplies such as food and water for schools, kept in containers outside school buildings, were also no longer being maintained at recommended levels due to lack of funding.
Last week's draft report updates emergency planning program elements that have been maintained or recently updated since health and safety took over the portfolio. "I had been asking since fall for an update because there has been a lot of work done that hasn't really been reported out, probably since we've been in office," explained Bacchus, now school board chair and a Vision Vancouver trustee.
At the time of her 2008 report, she said staff indicated they wouldn't volunteer as emergency responders in the hours following a quake unless they had proper training and equipment. Bacchus maintains the school board should take the responsibility for looking after kids in its care during school hours.
"Teams are now trained at most of the schools--I don't think it's 100 per cent but it's a huge improvement over what existed in the past," Bacchus said. "My concern as a parent, and DPACs concern, was we know we have dozens of high-risk schools... we needed to have a plan in place in terms of emergency response at the school level."
Three hundred and forty-one school staff have volunteered for school emergency response team training and have been provided with two days of training, although teams still need to be recruited and trained at six elementary schools. Elementary schools with teams of one or two volunteers need to be expanded, as do high school teams with less than seven volunteers.
Continuous recruitment and training should be maintained to deal with staff transfers and retirements, according to the report, and annual half-day refreshers are required to keep skills up.
In May, CBC reported parents at Henry Hudson elementary school discovered items in its emergency bin were out of date. It contained expired water, food rations that will expire this summer and light sticks that expired in 1998. It had been flooded and some items were water-damaged and mouldy.
The VSB report includes plans for new food and water models and addresses the problem of moisture issues caused by what's known as "container sweat" where water condenses on the inside of the cold metal.
Current bins are 17 years old. Many are showing signs of decay and will require replacement although that comes at a cost not currently budgeted.
"There are things in the report that are in progress. [Parents] should be pleased to see there has been some real progress and a commitment and resources allocated to being prepared. But there's no question in so many of our schools that still need to be seismically updated," Bacchus said.