The Rest Of Us Will Need Tools And Expertise (Part Two of a series)

The rest of us.

That is who are going to be doing the majority of the rescuing during the first several days after a major earthquake hits, similar to the one on October 17, 1989 in the San Francisco area.  It was a 7.1 on the Richter scale, big enough, but not the really big one that everybody is talking about currently (see my previous post for a description of how to interpret the size of an earthquake).  And we have a challenge that no one is talking about properly, that of volunteer rescuers.

In Learning From The Earthquake, Stewart Brand, the author, happened to be in the right place at the right time.  He wrote about what really needs to happen, and I will quote the first paragraph:

There simply aren’t enough professionals available to cover all the emergencies in a disaster.  Volunteer rescuers in San Francisco’s Marina District on the night of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake outnumbered professionals three-to-one during the critical first few hours.  And it still wasn’t enough.  Only a small portion of the people present offered emergency help, despite the romanticized press to the contrary.

If you peruse the entire article, it is a bit sobering frankly.  But I want to be very sober about this subject, for I am frankly unprepared to abandon the responsibility for my family, friends and neighbors to the politicians and professionals.  All the happy thoughts in the world will not prepare us adequately for what might happen in our lifetimes, a 7.0 or worse earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone.

Volunteer rescuers are survivors of the initial earthquake who are in an area where people need rescuing; some poor soul dazed, and dirty, and amazed to be alive.  Buildings collapsed, fires starting, they look around and all they see (if lucky) are a few other hardy souls.  The odds of seeing a professional are roughly zero.  Then they hear the yelling for help, seemingly from everywhere, and they have to do what they are capable of personally at that moment, which may be nothing.

My thinking is this:  are there people that we are ignoring who may be able to become brilliant rescuers?  Maybe they already have the training?  Can we offer specific courses?  What about tools?  Challenges galore.  But Brand’s article points to preparing and enabling the person left standing, and it is completely random chance as to who it could be and where they could be at that moment.  Is there a way to increase the odds that that person has some skills and tools and could possibly save some lives?  I believe that there is, provided some governmental barriers can be removed or, at worse, ignored.  Absolute heresy.

The first challenge is British Columbia’s “Good Samaritan Act”:

No liability for emergency aid unless gross negligence

1  A person who renders emergency medical services or aid to an ill, injured or unconscious person, at the immediate scene of an accident or emergency that has caused the illness, injury or unconsciousness, is not liable for damages for injury to or death of that person caused by the person’s act or omission in rendering the medical services or aid unless that person is grossly negligent.

Grossly negligent is a legal term that has no simple interpretation for the lay person in the middle of a disaster zone immediately after an earthquake.  Question five people at random, if they are even aware of the law, they may decide not to help because they do not want legal or criminal problems later.  If I am going to tunnel into a collapsed building, I do not want the law chasing me if my rescue attempt lead to somebody being hurt or killed.  I did my best.  We must make that presumption.  The negligence provision must be removed in an earthquake disaster zone.  Period.

The second, and just as significant, challenge is the government’s tendency to try and control everything having to do with earthquake preparedness.  An example, did you know that Highway #1 through the city and up island is a designated disaster route after an earthquake?  This means that you cannot leave and go to your family up island, where many Victoria workers actually live due to the high cost of housing.  Yet many provincial bureaucrats have a magic pass, literally, as they become disaster “bosses” and are allowed to use it?  So potentially, people will not be able to leave a disaster area immediately and take the stress off the system in the hardest hit areas.  Police will be handling traffic while people are trapped.  Borrowing a World War Two acronym, SNAFU.  There are bound to be many more unfortunately.

And finally, what about tools and expertise?

The rest of us will need tools and expertise.

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