Hurricane Harvey brings catastrophic floods to Houston. Crews battle large wildfire near Peachland. Irma takes aim at U.S. — six million Floridians flee home. Mexico recovering from deadly 8.1 earthquake.
Floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes. So much misery around the world. Is this the result of global warming? What if this happened in Vancouver?
While Vancouver may not be prone to hurricanes and forest fires, we are certainly susceptible to flooding and earthquakes.
A June 2016 story in the Richmond News reported on a review of future flood scenarios by the Fraser Basin Council. It revealed that Richmond and municipalities upstream are extremely vulnerable to flooding as sea levels continue to rise, glacier runoff becomes more pronounced, and the potential for more extreme storms increases.
Unless a comprehensive flood management plan is put in place, the council estimates a major flood would result in economic losses of $20-30 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
It is not just Richmond and the Fraser Valley that are susceptible to flooding. Rising sea levels could threaten many parts of Vancouver.
As someone who lives on an island in the Fraser River, I often think about flooding. But since my house was designed and built well above the Flood Construction Level, I don’t expect it to be affected by rising sea levels in my lifetime.
However, I do foresee a day when I may not be able to get off my island because neighbouring Southlands will be under water.
Given what has been happening in Houston and Florida, this may be a good time for Vancouver residents to consider Benjamin Franklin’s axiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
A good place to start is the City of Vancouver’s website on how to minimize the dangers of flooding.
While the danger of flooding is real, so are the consequences of an earthquake.
I have never been in an earthquake, but in 2007 I experienced one in the Earthquake House exhibit at the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.
This display simulates a 6.6-magnitude aftershock from an actual 1987 earthquake. It is frightfully realistic. While you are sitting in a house, it suddenly starts to shake. Pictures start crashing off the walls, furniture tips over, and the sound of breaking glass is deafening.
When the shaking stops, an urgent news bulletin interrupts regular TV programming. New Zealand’s version of Peter Mansbridge appears on screen to report on what is happening. Live video reveals the devastation around the city, including collapsed buildings, bridges and a pending tsunami.
The exhibit offers visitors a compelling reminder to ‘quake-safe’ their homes. Indeed, when I returned to Vancouver, I removed heavy glass-framed pictures from above our beds and prepared an emergency kit.
I would urge Vancouver officials to create a similar exhibit in the Vancouver museum or science centre.
(In 2015, a “Quake Cottage” earthquake simulator was set up in a parking lot at Vancouver city hall to mark Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada that year. The Insurance Bureau of Canada partnered with Vancouver and other municipalities to have a California company transport it to Metro Vancouver.)
Watching the recent flood and fire evacuations on TV, I am sure I was not the only one wondering how Vancouver would respond in the event of an emergency.
Fortunately, Metro Vancouver has undertaken considerable planning in this regard. There is an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a fortified bunker-like structure in Hastings-Sunrise. You can read about other emergency preparedness measures here.
The City of Vancouver also has a website here.
It urges every household to prepare an emergency plan so each family member understands what to do if there is an earthquake or other disaster.
Households should also have an emergency kit including food, water, and extra clothing, to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours following a major emergency since city services will be affected.
I would add: put some cash in your emergency kit since ATM machines will probably not be working, check insurance policies now, not later, keep slippers under your bed so you don’t have to step on broken glass, and get in the habit of not letting your gas tank get too empty.
Due to climate change, hurricanes and major floods are expected to increase in magnitude and frequency. There is a role that community planners must play. But that’s another story for another day.