Fault Lines: Preparing for the Big One

Shortly after Kathryn Schulz won the Pulitzer for her sobering assessment of the rupturing of the Cascadia fault line and the likely impacts on communities across the Pacific Northwest, I ended up at a house party in East Van. What Schulz describes in “The Really Big One” is terrifying – a looming earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island that will result in widespread destruction and death on British Columbia’s southern coast. Naturally, I wanted to find out what locals thought about the massive earthquake that has a 1 in 10 chance of occurring within the next 50 years, and will likely result in deaths and casualties in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

What I heard was that the threat was overblown, and that if you grew up on Vancouver Island or in the lower mainland, you had spent time in school practicing emergency scenarios and were aware of what was in store. Plus, the government had decades of time to prepare, and that they would be ready if it happens.

As one would expect after reading Schulz’s piece, I left that party thinking that these people were delusional as fuck. That they were literally facing a natural disaster of a magnitude unseen in scale and devastation in Canada during modern times, and they felt they could coast by relying on what they were taught in grade school and on the government.

But then I checked myself. Maybe Schulz was all hype, and besides, the government would have a plan.

Turns out my initial impression may have been correct. At least according to Fault Lines (podcast page), a CBC podcast by seismologist and reporter Johanna Wagstaffe, which runs through two terrifying, though likely, scenarios when either a mega-thrust or crustal earthquake hits BC’s southern coast.

There will be widespread destruction, particularly on Vancouver Island, as well as casualties and death. Although the reasons for this are unique to the region (geography, topography, building styles, lack of experience with earthquakes, etc.), Wagstaffe identifies the earthquake of Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011 as case study on what will happen here, and what can be done to prepare and coordinate.

Perhaps the most revealing thing from the series is that the government’s plan is for individual residents to have their own plan and resources to survive without support or supplies for at least 72 hours, if not a week. I wonder how many people living on Vancouver Island or in the lower mainland have an earthquake kit full of provisions that will allow them and their families to survive for a week without additional assistance?

Fault Lines tackles a necessary topic, but what is also worth commenting on is how it embodies the best of solutions-focused journalism. The series focuses on a major issue that will have significant impact on the lives of its listeners, and attempts to empower those affected to take steps now to protect life and property when the earthquakes strike. It provides expert insight, practical solutions, and, hopefully, the motivation to act.

Amy Sanderson21/12/16