Small communities under evacuation orders Saturday night responded calmly and quickly after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit Haida Gwaii and triggered fears of a tsunami, said local and provincial officials.
But the time lapse between the quake and the response by Emergency Management B.C. left some questioning the government’s disaster preparedness.
“The first call I got from the provincial emergency program was an hour at least after the earthquake. We’d already initiated the evacuation,” said Chris Ashurst, emergency coordinator in Tow Hill Road, a community of about 200 people 10 kilometres east of Masset on Haida Gwaii.
“Normally I would wait for that call before doing that .... By the time we got that call, the wave had already passed, quite a bit earlier,” he said.
Instead, Ashurst looked to Google Alerts, which picked up on a Web notice from the U.S. Geological Survey immediately after the quake jolted his home just after 8 p.m. He also called the mayor of Masset, who told him he had issued an evacuation order despite not having heard from Emergency Management, the provincial agency responsible for advisories of active emergencies.
Ashurst decided to initiate an evacuation process too, which saw him drive to 60 households and use a subscription telephone service telling residents to move to higher ground.
He said the province’s lag time contrasted with its quick response to the Tohoku earthquake that devastated parts of Japan in 2011. “I got that call pretty quickly.”