Earthquakes. They are ethereal, something you watch in an old Hollywood disaster movie, dismiss as “never going to happen in my lifetime, so why worry?”
I was awake at 11:40 (on my clock), Tuesday, December 29, 2015 when a magnitude 4.7 centered near my parents home in Sidney shook the building. It lasted less than a minute, but sometimes a minute can change the way that you think about things, in big ways.
People close to me know that I have thinking about earthquakes, their effects, being prepared, having a plan, for quite a while. My family just says “let Dad handle it.” So, this father and partner has been thinking the whole thing through, and where we are at on southern Vancouver Island is not a good place, neither to be in an earthquake nor in how we are prepared to deal with the consequences.
The rest of this article is going to be a bit black frankly, so if your heart is a faint one, close the page.
There is something you need to know about how to imagine an earthquake will feel while it’s happening, which is that each number is roughly 30 times more energy than the last one. So, rounding our 4.7 to a 5.0, assume that all of you know what a five feels like, as you just went through one. A 6.0 is 30 times the energy of a 5.0, so it lasts longer and beats us up more. A 7.0 is 30 times a 6.0, or 900 (30 x 30) times the energy of what we just went through, which means more violent shaking for a longer period of time. Imagine three minutes at this level. Yes Virginia, more violent for three straight minutes.
I have come to the conclusion that earthquakes here fall into four categories: 1) relatively minor ones, like the 4.7 we just experienced; 2) ones that cause a bit of damage, think 5.5 to 6.0; 3) ones that produce minor and major damage over the whole area, think 6.5 to 7.5; and 4) the place is shook like a rag doll by a dog, everything has some damage (to a builder), think 8.0 and up. The local preparations, mostly fire and police, will rely on a combination of an earthquake under 6.0 and pure dumb luck. Beyond that, all bets are off. The local and provincial governments have pretty much agreed with me on this one, as they are now advising we all have three weeks of food for those who survive. If we need food for three weeks, then everything food related is gone. No new food is coming to the island, and they have no system to distribute it. What does the city then look like? A bit more thought, who is doing the rescuing immediately after the earthquake? Lots of people to rescue, nobody to do it.
The government people (politicians and bureaucrats) will disagree. They point to binders on shelves, locked containers on schoolyards (only for kids!), and the ever present comfort that more levels of government are going to do the rescuing. If you read the following article, The Really Big One, the other levels of government are going to be really busy in both the United States and Canada. Oh yes, we live on an island, just to add an additional degree of difficulty.
The place will be a mess. We need to have a better system for rescuing ourselves, and we need to stop counting on government to do it.
Who is going to come rescue me?
The rest of us.