–Kenn Mount, Director of Community Safety/Fire Chief, District of Sooke
At about 1:30am on January 23, 2018 a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck deep below the ocean floor, approximately 300 km southeast of Kodiak Alaska. Shortly after, a Tsunami Warning was issued for much of BC’s coastal areas, including the community of Sooke, triggering the following response:
- The Sooke Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was activated at the Sooke Fire Hall just after 2:00am.
- Twenty-seven emergency personnel were staged at the EOC, and stationed at potentially threatened locations (Billings Spit and Whiffen Spit), all of whom were preparing for further emergency response.
- Sooke Emergency Support Services (ESS) members were alerted, and leads reported to the EOC – standing by in such case the activation of a Reception Centre at the Sooke Community Hall was required.
- At 4:12am the Tsunami Warning was cancelled due to additional information and analysis of the potential threat.
- Many emergency personnel remained at the fire hall until after 5:00am to monitor potential updates and debrief.
There are a variety of approaches to managing an emergency situation, depending on the scale and type of incident. One of the facets of responsible emergency management is analyzing and measuring the risks on the community and its residents. Knowing when to evacuate residents and understanding when to not cause undue stress, panic and anxiety is at the forefront of the conversation. Actions to protect human life and property will vary within tsunami advisory areas and depend upon individualized threats to the community.
Specific areas identified as being potentially impacted were monitored by emergency crews. No tactical evacuations were required nor were official evacuation orders necessary. Properties and infrastructure located less than 4m (13′) from the high tide mark were the priority areas and emergency responders were on the ground in those areas. If it was determined that the incident warranted an evacuation order, emergency personnel would ensure that residents were made aware, advised to evacuate and referred to a Reception Centre and Group Lodging facilities, if necessary. As the recent event resulted in an alert only, the potential threat was not deemed critical enough to mobilize residents and evacuate. The goal of emergency responders was to minimize panic, limit anxiety and ask that residents shelter in place by remaining in their homes.
It is important to note that at the same time as the Tsunami Warning, the Sooke Fire Rescue Department was simultaneously responding to car fire, and alarms bells at a multi-family residence.
To help combat misinformation and minimize panic, it is important to refer to local authorities and check local social media channels and websites for information specific to the community of Sooke. Gathering information from a credible source will ensure safety and proper response.
Residents of Sooke are welcome to access the emergency preparedness resources available at the Fire Department or contact us with any questions. Thank you to all of the emergency responders and ESS members who were onsite, or standing by, to provide support.
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