The Warning Shake

The earthquake, however, must be to every one a most impressive event: the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.”
Charles DarwinVoyage of the Beagle

There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”
Stephen KingDifferent Seasons

Keep your eyes open, Fireheart. Keep your ears pricked. Keep looking behind you. Because one day I’ll find you, and then you’ll be crowfood.”
Erin HunterForest of Secrets


I’ve been teaching Disaster/Emergency Planning/Preparedness for years under the Canadian Red Cross. I chose to do it that way because the amount of communities/households calling for me to do a presentation is appallingly low (almost non-existent): if any, they prefer to call a well-known and respected organization (and I don’t blame them) and they tend to do so after a big scare such as yesterday evening’s 4.8 earthquake in Victoria (felt along all Metro-Vancouver and beyond)

I took all the courses from the BC Justice Institute on Emergency Management plus all the Canadian Red Cross courses on Disaster Management and a few online courses. I’ve more than 6 years of experience as a DM and ESS volunteer. I got a certificate as First Aid trainer and also took Remote and Wilderness First Aid training and have trained more than a dozen groups of community members (mostly immigrants and refugees), but what all that has taught me is how ill-prepared we all are: starting by the government and the many non-profit agencies and going all the way down to individual households, workplaces and schools.

Let me explain: the current disaster plans are all scattered and disconnected; they would probably work under the assumption every other part of the system continues to work (they surely won’t work under complex circumstances such as social or economic hardship or severe “natural” disasters.

People are unaware, but most of these plans and preparations are highly relying on volunteers: the staff is minimum and not necessarily well prepared: there is no such a thing as systems-thinking or holistic thinking in any of these courses and/or practices and all is sustained on gigantic amounts of money (i.e. donations and taxpayers money) and bureaucracy (i.e. assuming a “chain-of-command” model with lots of hierarchy and paperwork)

I have tried (unsuccessfully) for years to advocate for a more grass-roots approach: after all, there are dozens of studies showing that the “first responders” in any situation are always the ones who happen to be there: you, your family members, your co-workers, your classmates, your neighbours, those who travel with you in the bus and so on)…in a big disaster, you and them are the ones who need to know what to do and need to have the important supplies.

People tend to trust that authorities and rescuers will be there to “save them” but that’s not always the case: because there are few of them, they have to use “triage” and choose to help those who may be more vulnerable or just happen to be located in places where is accessible. This means you may be trapped for hours (or days) in situations where you will need to survive without running water, electricity/power and regular communication tools. You may also be injured, scared and overwhelmed by the situation, and so may be your loved ones, neighbours, etc.

If you have time: watch this video…if you don’t, make it a New Year’s resolution to watch it with family and friends: from:

I have written long and thorough about what to do and how to prepare so today’s post will be short:

  • Use yesterday’s shake (earthquake) as an opportunity to call the attention of neighbours, co-workers, school-mates and even your family members: they are more prone to pay attention after a big shake
  • Call for an informal meeting and introduce your concerns, invite people’s insights and propose a plan
  • Work on a plan together: you will need a plan for every circumstance: 1) To stay in place and survive without external help for 72 hours to 2-weeks (this has to consider all the places where you spend more time, such as home, work and school or car); 2) To evacuate the area (this is either mandate or suggested by authorities or you may have to decide on your own if the location becomes unsafe and unstable for you to stay, again, consider a plan to evacuate from home, work, school, etc)…as this may take days, propose a committee and ask people what they each want to do, as some may have more interest/expertise than others
  • On your plan, consider all the circumstances and actors: what are the main risks/hazards, who are the more vulnerable in your group and what are their needs (examples: seniors, infants, people with disabilities or chronic conditions, pets, pregnant women, etc)
  • Super important: consider people and places’ assets and opportunities: people may have skills or resources you don’t know. How many know first aid? Have volunteered in disasters? May be good in conflictive or stressful situations? May be able to repair/build things from scratch?
  • When planning for both types of scenarios, consider essential needs: water, food, air, protection from the elements and injuries, physical and mental health, waste management, communication and transportation (note: people tend not to prepare for human and other types of waste management, think not only composting toilets)
  • Do not rush to buy ready-made kits and think you are done: every household and neighbourhood or workplace has different needs depending on what you do, where you live and who is impacted: create your own list based on this one emergency kit
  • In your plan, always consider backups: more than one element to cover for each important function. This works both with people (i.e. have more than one person with First Aid training just in case one is injured/not present) and resources: have more than one way to cover for a need (i.e. water and water-filters in case the water you have becomes compromised)
  • Review your plan every six months and involve as many people as possible from those potentially affected
  • Create some sort of communication chain where you send them updates, reminders or news, but make it fun and allow others to take responsibility too

In any case, the best preparation is how you live your life. There are things for which we can never, ever be prepared…looking at the big picture helps: since millennia, we have experienced all kinds of disasters, some created by us (such as wars and social/economic collapses), some exacerbated or even created by our lack of systemic/long-term thinking such as the recent floods in Britain and some as a result of Natural occurrences (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc)

We now have tools (Permaculture and systems thinking) to address how we approach many of these things and create solutions (such as re-foresting riversides and coastal areas to prevent/diminish flooding or build earthquake resistant housing that is also sustainable, work as communities and not in an isolated fashion, etc)

Most people dread the terms “Emergency” or “Disaster” preparedness as they have the magical thought that avoiding these words coming into their heads somewhat make them “safe” from these events…

But working towards a sound plan and avoiding risks and hazards can be fun: it is one of the best ways to build community and household trust (and resilience!)

Enjoy your life and have a super-thankful New Year’s Eve!

May 2016 bring awareness, wisdom and empowerment to live a simpler yet fuller life in this amazing planet we all share…
Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.” ~ Scottish proverb

Further resources:

There is an excellent summary for families here:

And I highly recommend the “Map your Neighbourhood” model:
If you want to know more about our Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake and Tsunami you can watch this video:  and read this sobering (long but worth) article:

2 Comments on “The Warning Shake

  1. Many communities in the US have “Hazard Mitigation Plans”. Most are not worth the paper they are written on. They are boiler plate, fill in the blank, risk assessments that sit on shelves collecting dust. They are created so that in the event of a disaster the community can apply for financial assistance. Very few in the community even know they exist.

    While there are many sincere, caring, individuals working in Emergency Preparedness their hands are often tied. Letting people know the true risk of living near industrial sites, below dams, in flood zones, in areas prone to landslides, etc. is not good for development or the tax base.

    It must start with the people at a grassroots level and education is the key… Thank you Silvia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and people need to take responsibility and stop thinking on the goverment as God or Big Dad who will come and save them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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