Ready for the Big One?

Most British Columbians ignore calls for emergency preparedness

Despite repeated media campaigns and shocking images of devastation from other parts of the world, the vast majority British Columbians remain stubbornly unprepared for an earthquake.

Provincial emergency officials estimate only 14 per cent of British Columbians are prepared for the inevitable big one.

Last October, 470,000 people registered in The Great British Columbia Shake Out, a provincewide earthquake drill aimed at preparing everyone in B.C. This year, organizers hope to see that number increase.

But despite the co-ordinated education effort, many people living in the high-risk coastal earthquake zone choose to ignore the warnings – a choice largely determined by what University of Victoria environmental psychologist Robert Gifford calls the “dragons of inaction.”

“We all know we should brush our teeth, we should exercise, we should eat the rights things, but a lot of us don’t do those things even when we should,” Gifford said, noting that the same goes for preparing for an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Many people often have other priorities or conflicting goals, which stand in the way of planning for disaster. Sometimes people who are closest to a risk actually perceive it as being a smaller risk, Gifford said, perhaps because they don’t want to face the danger or because it’s easier to suppress it.

“They may think that it just won’t do any good. ‘A desk or a building isn’t going to save me so why try?’” he said.

Social amplification – the influence of those who we surround ourselves with – also has a strong effect, and could be keeping the majority of people who still haven’t prepared from getting on with it, Gifford added.

Dave Cockle, deputy fire chief for Oak Bay and chair of the B.C. Earthquake Alliance, which oversees the Great British Columbia Shake Out, wants to break through the psychological roadblocks and get everyone living in earthquake country equipped with plan.

“Be aware and have a preparedness kit, that way you’re not a victim,” Cockle said. “The key messaging in this whole thing is that you will get caught in an earthquake one day and you need to drop, cover yourself and hold on until the shaking stops and then make your way to your safe area, wherever your meeting place is.”

Meanwhile Gifford, despite fully understanding the psychology behind inaction, admits he remains ill-prepared for the big one.

“We have a case of canned beans downstairs. Do I have anything else? No. I’m going to be depending on my case of canned beans. That’s about it. Twelve cans of beans that have probably gone bad. I’m not completely virtuous.”

The psychologist said he does, however, have a designated meeting place with his partner.

Gifford and the remaining 86 per cent of the province who have yet to fully prepare can turn it all around starting with the Shake Out drill, set for 10:18 a.m. on Oct. 18. To register, visit CFAX 1070 will broadcast the event.



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