The 35 members of the Sooke Emergency Support Service are calling on the community to better prepare for a major disaster.
“Sooke is not ready for a major disaster,” Ron Bilinsky, a member of ESS, said.
“Popular wisdom is you should be ready [to support yourself] for 72 hours, but the truth is you should be ready for at least seven days – maybe longer.”
Bilinsky said most people consider a major earthquake as the most likely disaster that could hit Sooke, but added that approach might be misguided.
“An earthquake is certainly a very real possibility. We know that it’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when,” Bilinsky said.
“But there are other major events that are very likely to affect the community that people don’t often consider. There are no drills, for example, of what to do if a wildfire threatens the community.”
Shauna Davis, the director of the ESS, agreed.
“People just don’t see major disasters as a tangible problem. They’ll prepare to go camping or on a trip, but this is something that gets ignored,” she said.
“Even something as simple as having your insurance documents in a grab and go bag is important. It’s information you’ll need after a disaster hits.”
Bilinsky conducts emergency preparedness training sessions for neighbourhood groups and often leads participants on a thought exercise that reproduces the aftermath of a major disaster.
“I tell them to imagine that the roads are buckled and impassable. Then I tell them to shut off the lights and pretend there’s no electricity and no water, so drinking water is not available and neither is water to wash with or flush toilets,” Bilinsky said.
“The shelves at the grocery stores will empty out quickly and the credit and debit card systems will likely be down, so how are you going to pay for anything? And do you have gas in the tank, because the gas pumps won’t be working.”
Bilinsky pointed out cell towers may be down, and even if they’re not, phone batteries will run down and charging them will be impossible.
To help deal with all these scenarios, the ESS would assist the Sooke Fire Rescue in the event of an emergency and operate a reception centre for evacuees.
“We would register those people, creating a record of who has evacuated and where they are, and we would also provide food and clothing for at least 72 hours after the event,” Bilinsky said.
“It’s important to be able to keep track of people and where they are. We saw examples of that in the Fort McMurray fire.”
If large scale evacuations of homes happened, the group would open group lodging centres in locations like the local high school or local hotels.
In anticipation of a major emergency, the ESS has also established contacts with hotels, grocery stores and other relevant businesses to arrange for what would be expected and how those businesses would be compensated.
“We have worked with pharmacies, for example, to discuss how we could access medications for people,” Bilinsky said.
But beyond the community level initiatives, the group also operates a sub-group of the ESS program, focused on individual neighbourhood preparedness.
The Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness program is designed to create smaller neighbourhood groups and encourage people within a neighbourhood to be more prepared.
“Part of it is getting to know the neighbours-finding out who has medical training, who has a chainsaw, construction experience, or a four-by-four-things like that. There’s also the other side of it, who has mobility or health limitations, and who will need extra help,” Bilinsky said.
To that end, the ESS has prepared a power point presentation and is anxious to come to neighbourhood meetings to help establish a Neighbourhood Preparedness Group.
Anyone wishing to organize a neighbourhood group is invited to contact Bilinsky at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-664-7048.
“Sooke is in a situation where even a major windstorm has the potential of cutting power and closing down transportation for extended periods. Being prepared and knowing what to do only makes sense,” Bilinsky said.