Disaster preparedness workshops remind residents to be ready

Saanich hosts series of events beginning Feb. 18 to provide information on preparing for a major emergency

When a major natural disaster makes headlines worldwide, the phone lines at the Saanich Emergency Program ring off the hook. When coverage subsides, so too does local interest in emergency preparedness.

“Unfortunately there seems to be some apathy towards being prepared for disasters. It’s not one of those things that’s top of mind for many, but it’s very important to be prepared. We never know when a disaster is going to happen,” said Brock Henson, a captain with the Saanich fire department and Saanich’s emergency program officer.

While most people in British Columbia talk of “the big one” – a massive earthquake expected to strike the West Coast in the next 700 years – there are other disasters that should be considered. Dwelling fires, urban interface fires, floods, pandemics and hazardous material spills are all possible disasters that could happen locally with little warning – and it’s best to be prepared.

Henson points to the devastating earthquakes that struck New Zealand and Japan in February and March 2011, respectively. When those occurred, SEP received a flood of requests for emergency preparedness information.

“We did a survey this year. Our results suggested that Saanich residents might be more prepared when compared to other areas of the province,” Henson said. “We can always become more prepared for disasters, and we want to do everything we can to encourage people to become prepared and provide them with the tools and information they require.”

SEP will host a series of free, 90-minute emergency preparedness presentations in the coming months at Saanich’s rec centres. As part of the presentations, SEP will distribute a new 100-page emergency preparedness booklet, complete with information on what to do before, during and after a disaster.

“Major disasters disrupt the normal functions of our society. In addition to normal infrastructure being compromised, it’s important people are self sufficient for a period of seven days,” Henson said. “Emergency officials and first responders, we can handle several emergencies at the same time, but in a major disaster our resources will be overwhelmed and … it could be a week or more before emergency personnel can attend the less critical needs of our community.”

SEP presentations happen Feb. 18 at Commonwealth Place, March 26 at Gordon Head Rec, April 5 at Cedar Hill Rec and May 14 at Pearkes. While the course is free, registration is required. For more information and registration details, visit sep.saanich.ca.