When the levee breaks, ain't no place to go The time for disaster readiness is now By Chris Woodall The San Francisco earthquake and the Manitoba flood: that disaster stuff'll never happen here... right? The Whistler Mountain Quicksilver chairlift disaster of December 1995 should answer that question. Two people died and 10 more were injured as a result of the accident. While hundreds of locals and others helped out, the coroner's report noted the lack of method and supplies to rescue skiers stranded on the lift. Holocausts come in all sorts of ways. Being prepared is the only way to ensure that when "it" does come, Whistler is on its best behaviour to meet any and all challenges. That's why the municipality is reviewing and updating its emergency response plan. And that's why Emergency Social Services director Clare Fletcher wants you to volunteer (if you are aged 18 or older) to be part of the ESS response team. A meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7-9 p.m., in council chambers at municipal hall. A municipal display at Spirit Day, Sunday, Nov. 16, will have more information. If you have special skills, great, but you'd be surprised to see what a variety of tasks are needed that don't require any specific talent. A runner, for example, is simply someone who can pick up and deliver messages or small items on foot in case electronic communications fails. A pet care worker assists with caring for domestic pets that may have been abandoned during a community crisis. "We're re-looking at the whole emergency social services plan," Fletcher says. "We want to get more of the community involved and more types of people involved." Meanwhile, Fletcher is working her way through Whistler's hotels, businesses and anyone else who should have their own emergency plan in place, to help them understand what they should have on hand and what they can do in an emergency. A hotel fire can be devastating. Are you and your fellow staff prepared to clear all floors and assist all guests? A slip of the hand and a restaurant guest spills his Drambuie on his vest, igniting it with his cigar; or a slip of the pan sets the kitchen a-blaze. Who does what? Who takes charge? "People panicking is the No. 1 thing people do," Fletcher says. She has recently met with the staff of the just-opened Pan Pacific Hotel and hopes to bring the updated emergency preparedness message to more Whistler hotels. "Surprisingly, there are no guidelines for hotels," Fletcher observes. "Whistler could be something like a pilot project." To get an idea what a business, hotel or other enterprise should be aware of, we attended a briefing Fletcher gave for Whistler Wastewater Treatment Plant workers. The site across the highway from Function Junction has emergency supplies for 15 people, broken into three types of pre-made kits. A red kitbag contains first aid supplies, but for injuries a lot more severe than a cut finger. Staff shouldn't use the bag for day-to-day injuries, but only for the "big one," or they might find there's nothing in the bag when the time comes. A blue kitbag contains dehydrated power-type bars, 36-hour candles, space blanket, mini tarp, 12-hour light sticks, water bag, purification tablets and dust masks. The food bars are vacuum foil wrapped and taste like crumbly lemon cookies. "You certainly wouldn't have a craving for them, but they will sustain you," Fletcher says. A yellow kitbag is the rescue bag. In it are two flashlights with a stash of batteries, disposable blankets, hard hat sets with goggles, gloves and dust masks, a battery-powered radio (yes, batteries included), waterproof matches, a whistle and the heavy stuff: sledge hammer and crowbar. No kitbag would be complete without a honking big roll of duct tape. "It's absolutely fabulous," says Fletcher. "It can be used to close severe wounds." As she tells anyone at the workplace: "If you're here (during an emergency) you could be separated from your loved ones, so make sure there are similar supplies at home." And with the weather we have, a collection of items in the trunk of the car wouldn't hurt. "Think about being stranded on the highway," she says, noting that Highway 99 has been closed more than once by rock slide, heavy snowfall, or major accident. When talking emergency, it is usual to talk in terms of a major earthquake. Just because it hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean it won't happen soon. "All B.C. is in an earthquake zone. One is big enough to do some damage once a decade," Fletcher says. But while total collapse of a building is rare in this province, most injuries from an earthquake come from falling debris, either from the workplace ceiling, tipsy shelving, or the exterior facing of the building. Oddly enough — and Fletcher did not crack a smile when she explained how to do this — the goofy "duck and cover" method to avoid nuclear annihilation so favoured in the 1950s has made an earthquake comeback. It's most recent version is called "duck, cover and hold." The basic idea is the same: when an earthquake hits, the safest thing to do is to "duck" under a table or desk, crouch into a ball to "cover" your head and neck, but also "hold" onto the desk/table legs. This last step was learned from Japanese experience, Fletcher explains. An earthquake hit, everyone ducked and covered, but the vibration — as always happens — joggled the desks all over the office, leaving the Japanese workers (who hadn't moved) exposed to flying glass and debris. And forget about the "hide in the doorway" tip. "Recent information says not to do this," Fletcher says. "The door can be slammed repeatedly on you and your fingers during the quake." A better move is to brace yourself in a hallway by curling up along the wall. "Wait 60 seconds after a quake, then always look up to see if there is any danger above you," Fletcher says of detached lights, exposed electrical cords, drooping ceiling tiles, etc. Look at others around you. Make eye contact to see if they are in shock, or if they're injured. "Get outside and wait for the aftershock," is the next piece of advice. In most communities, that might be enough. But Fletcher notes that Whistler's 7,200 residents may have to look after the needs of 42,000 visitors, depending on the time of year. The more of us who can say "ready, aye, ready," will make handling the emergency — whatever it is — much smoother.