Can we really only have foresight in hindsight? Or are we smarter than that?
It’s funny how things tie together. I wrote just last week about how, if we can see that something bad is going to happen, it is our duty to act to prevent it.
And now, this week, the seven Italian geoscientists, engineers and government officials who are charged with failing to give the public adequate warning of a probable earthquake are big international news. (I actually wrote about this case back in June, for the Guardian).
I can’t help but relate this example to the story here in Tofino. (Although I have moved to Port Alberni, I am actually in Tofino at the moment as I write this – my house sale closes today!)
So, over in Italy those officials are being charged with manslaughter – after the earthquake. (The earthquake that occurred there, just six days after the group had released a statement that there was no increased danger of a major quake, killed 309 people).
Over here, we know with 100% certainty that a major quake is coming. We cannot predict exactly when – it could come this afternoon, or not for another 200 years – but there is 100% certainty that it will come. And the destruction of buildings and infrastructure and the loss of human life will be on the scale of what we all witnessed in Japan this past March. It is most likely that thousands, possibly even tens of thousands, will die.
We cannot prevent that quake. But we can prevent many of the deaths if we educate ourselves, and prepare for it now.
And this is one of the main reasons that I have moved away from Tofino. Port Alberni is not that far away – the earthquake and tsunami will be almost as bad there as they will be here. But how these two communities are preparing for these coming events is completely different.
Tofino came out with an emergency plan in 2007. It was failing in so many ways:
- It had evacuation routes that actually sent people into the tsunami inundation zone rather than out of it
- There was insufficient understanding of the nature of a magnitude 9 earthquake (which means that numerous trees will be down across the roads and driving will not be an option for evacuation). Safe zones must be close enough to reach on foot, within 15 minutes of the earthquake. The plan assumed people would be driving.
- There was insufficient understanding of the events to understand what kind of emergency kits people must have: Two types are required: the so-called “Grab’n’go” kit, which you run with to escape the coming tsunam; and then a long-term survival kit to withstand the weeks or months where access to food, water, and other basic supplies will be limited.
- Their official Grab’n’go kit list contained 126 items! (which included items such as a cribbage board, fire extinguisher, and shower cap) – virtually guaranteeing that anyone who obeyed the official planners’ recommendations would not be able to drag that kit up the hill before the first tsunami wave hit.
I could see that this plan would actually put more lives in danger than if people simply ignored the plan, so I wrote two articles for the community, and made sure that they were published in both of our local newspapers:
Info about the character and magnitude of our expected earthquake and tsunami events (PDF file of text originally published in The Westcoaster and the Westerly newspaper, April 2007)
A critique of Tofino’s emergency plan (PDF file of text originally published in The Westcoaster and the Westerly newspaper, April 2007):
I continued to research the subject, and to offer information to Tofino’s emergency planners and to Tofino Council. I published blog articles, I talked on CBC Radio, I was even interviewed on CBC TV’s The National. To this day, four years later, no Tofino official has ever responded specifically to my input (even just to tell me to shut up!).
I tried increasingly provocative blog post titles (from You’re all gonna die: Whatever in June 2010) to an angry but informative rant published last March. By the time of that last one, I had given up on Tofino… I was already half-moved to Port Alberni – but I left it as a bit of a legacy, with all of the links to every article and interview I had done on the subject, in case someone in Tofino ever decides they do want to use my research.
And where has Tofino got with this?
Well, in June of 2010 the mayor, John Fraser, finally mustered himself up to get on CBC Radio to address this subject. Apparently his understanding of the event is so minimal that he does not actually understand that the earthquake will affect the entire west coast region, not just Tofino – so Vancouver will not be dispatching a ship to Tofino within 24 hours, as he is counting on. Vancouver will be digging itself out.
And he believes that Tofitians will survive by eating farmed fish. (Umm, if anyone saw the Japan videos, you might remember that there is a bit of current associated with those tsunami waves. I don’t think those Atlantic salmon will be sticking around). You can listen to that CBC interview with the mayor here.
And then, this past March, the mayor stuck his foot in it again on GlobalTV – saying that locals “should” know where to go to under a tsunami warning (well, if they follow the official Tofino recommendations, sadly, that would be into the inundation zone) – but that visitors will be running around like crazy. (Umm, shouldn’t Tofino take some responsibility in making sure that visitors know what to do too? Not to mention that he is not making a tourism-dependent town look very inviting to tourists!) Unfortunately, GlobalTV seems to have taken down that video clip but you can read some of the locals’ reaction to it here.
So, back to the Italian case. Scientists and government officials are being charged, the earthquake, for allegedly not providing adequate information and warning. 309 people died.
I want to know about here. I want to know about now, before the earthquake, before people have died. Here in Tofino, government officials are not providing adequate warning or information or planning for an event that we know is coming, and that we know will be deadly.
Must we wait until after the event happens, and hundreds or thousands of people die needlessly, due to inadequate or, in the case of Tofino, also dangerously inappropriate information? Or can we actually act with foresight, rather than hindsight?
Must we wait until people die? Or can we charge them now?
Reference: Map showing official Tofino tsunami evacuation routes.
Brown area is the tsunami inundation zone. White areas are safe areas. Look how much of the inundation zone people are expected to travel through, and how many safe areas they bypass, if they follow this plan. Remember, trees will be down and driving will be impossible. They have 15 minutes to get to safety.