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When you live on the West Coast, the fear of a major earthquake is a real and present anxiety. There are hundreds of little tremors every year that you never notice, but the mainstream news, the internet, and your grandma back in Ontario are constantly warning you about “The Big One.” Scientists have been saying for years now that we’re due for a megathrust 9.0 earthquake sometime in the next 50 years or so. Unlike other major shakers that have occurred on our side of the world— like the 2012 quake in Haida Gwaii, or the 1989 San Francisco quake — this predicted “Big One” will cause the most extensive damage and widespread chaos we’ve seen in modern times.

Some say it’s overhyped, call it fear-mongering, but honestly, it does scares me. I know there’s nothing I can do to stop it, and it may never come while I’m living here, but between the Japanese tsunami from years ago and the minor quake that shook the Lower Mainland earlier this year,  I’ve realized that I’m not as prepared as I should be. Both scenarios effectively froze me in my tracks. Well, with the Japanese one, I do remember getting up at 3am to stand on my balcony, staring out at English Bay looking for signs of a big wave rolling in. But with the little quake we had here recently, I froze completely. I always thought I’d spring to action in the event of a catastrophe, but I was surprised by how paralyzed with fear I became.

All of this has led me to taking emergency preparedness seriously, including participating in The Great Shakeout this month on the Burnaby campus, and I now have a backpack hanging in my closet that’s ready to go in the event of a major event. I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned, so you too might be able to find some comfort in the unknown.


This is the only phrase you need to remember in the event of an earthquake. It’s the motto being spread through events like The Great Shakeout, which this year saw a world record for largest emergency response drill, with schools, business and communities all up the West Coast participating in a test run. It works like this:

As soon as you feel the earthquake, immediately drop to your knees. The ground could be shaking violently, and this will prevent you from being swept off your feet.

Find the nearest object to you and crawl under it to protect your head and neck from falling objects (like pieces of the ceiling). Classroom desks and tables work great. If you can’t get under something, stay low and flatten yourself against an interior wall. If you’re in a wheelchair, lock your wheels and cover your head and the back of your neck with your hands. In all cases, stay away from windows or other glass, and away from items hanging on the wall. If you’re outside, stay there, and move away from tall buildings and glass.


If you’ve managed to get under something sturdy, hold onto it tightly so that it doesn’t fall over, and you remain covered.





An emergency kit can be a bit of a costly investment to stock, but it makes me feel so much safer to know that I have the necessary items on-hand to deal with the many challenges that can arise following a natural disaster. I call my kit “The Big One Bag” and I keep it hung up in a closet near my front door, so that I have quick and easy access as I’m evacuating. I used a sturdy backpack and stuffed it with necessities, tools and helpful items that will get me through a few days completely on my own, or with my partner (and cat). Here is a list of recommended items, including some you might not have thought about:

  • Water:  At least 2L per day/per person. You won’t get that much into a backpack, but if you keep a case of small water bottles nearby, you can always chuck a couple into the bag if you have to evacuate. It doesn’t hurt to have some water purification tablets on-hand as well. They are compact and we have a lot of natural water sources in BC to draw from.
  • Food (that won’t spoil) — Canned food is good, but super heavy. I stocked up on light-weight dehydrated meals and energy bars.  PET FOOD! Most people don’t necessarily think about their pets at this moment, but if you’re prepared and stocked with a couple of extra cans of food, you shouldn’t have to make that super difficult decision when the time comes…
  • A manual can opener— canned food will be more readily available at emergency stations in your area
  • Wind-Up battery-powered flashlight (and extra batteries)
  • Wind-Up battery-powered radio. I actually got one that combines flashlight and radio, to take up less room. Plus it charges your phone too. Most models do nowadays.
  • First-aid kit — well-stocked with essentials, incl. pain medication
  • Special items like prescription medication and equipment for people with disabilities
  • Cash in small bills
  • A copy of your emergency plan and contact info

A lot of places will sell pre-packaged kits, like the Canadian Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance/ Salvation Army.


For a full list of emergency kit retailers, and more information on how to prepare and respond to an emergency, visit