The instructions sounded inside Maple Ridge Municipal Hall at precisely 10:17 a.m. Thursday morning.
District staff briefly huddled under their desks before heading outdoors to a fog shrouded staging area at Memorial Peace Park, near 224th Street.
Once assembled, they, along with Ridge Meadows RCMP personnel and staff from the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, listened to information and advice from the district’s Chief Administrative Officer, Jim Rule.
While the Oct. 17 earthquake was simulated, the threat of a major tremor in this area is all too real.
B.C. is considered at high risk in relation to the rest of Canada. An example: on Jan. 26, 1700, a magnitude 9 earthquake shook the entire province as well as Washington, Oregon, and California, and generated a massive tsunami.
And the Pacific Coast is the most earthquake-prone region of Canada. Although the numbers vary annually, more than one thousand earthquakes rumble beneath the surface of British Columbia every year – more than three a day on average.
In the last 70 years, the offshore region to the west of Vancouver Island has had more than 100 earthquakes of magnitude five or greater. These could have caused damage had they been closer to communities.
Preparedness was the purpose behind the Great British Columbia ShakeOut, the largest ever earthquake drill in B.C. which involved, officially, 691,139 individuals across the province.
That’s up from the more than 590,000 people in B.C. who participated in the 2012 ShakeOut.
In the Fraser Valley, including Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 41,286 people took part in the drill.
A total of 143 staff members evacuated the municipal building, according to district manager of health, safety and employee development Anita Bhandari.
“However, all district facilities including the district hall, towers, fire, operations, and leisure participated by dropping to the ground, ducking under their desk and holding on,” she added. “In addition, our operations facility had a meeting with all their staff in the morning to discuss the purpose of ShakeOut and the roles they may have to play in ICS in the event of a real life earthquake.”
Worldwide, more than 24.5 million people dropped, covered, and held on.
Speaking to the group assembled at the staging area, Rule listed recent devastating natural disasters, including the deadly 7.2 magnitude quake that occurred this past Tuesday, Oct. 15 in the Philippines and has, at last count, claimed 144 lives, the 2010 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2011 quake and Tsunami that rocked coastal Japan.
“The inevitable will happen in B.C. There’s two plates, on the [Strait of] Juan De Fuca and the George Strait, that will eventually build up pressure and ultimately, there will be an earthquake here,” Rule said. “It’s just like death and taxes, it will happen. It’s a matter of when. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, it could be 100 years from now.”
Traditionally, earthquakes run on cycles of 400 and 500 years, Rule noted, adding that the large major quake to hit the province was 250 years ago.
“It’s very important that we do take it seriously, because it will happen,” Rule said.
Rule said it is important for the district to have an “active emergency plan.”
“There’s also a personal responsibilty,” he said.
The first 72 hours after a natural disaster, people will have to rely on themselves. It takes time for the federal government to mobilize, said Rule, stressing that first responders including firefighters, paramedics, and RCMP officers will be “tapped out.”
Bhandari, the district’s fire safety director, felt the drill was very successful and helped raise awareness for all the district’s staff and guests.
“This drill is extremely important for us,” she said, “as it gives us the opportunity to practise these life-saving techniques, and helps raise awareness of the importance of disaster preparedness.”
IF THE 'BIG ONE' HITS...
In the event of an earthquake, it’s recommended you drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it until the shaking stops.
If there isn’t a table or desk near you, drop to the ground in an inside corner of the building and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Do not try to run to another room just to get under a table.
It’s not recommended you get in a doorway, or run outside.
ShakeOut was also a chance for families, businesses, schools, and organizations to review and update their emergency preparedness plans and supplies, and secure their spaces to prevent damage and injuries.
@ Copyright 2013