Be prepared – But remember Murphy’s Law

When Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard unveiled the mobile ultra modern Emergency Command Centre the other day local government took a major step in preparation for The Big One.

It has all the bells and whistles police, fire-fighters, and paramedics need to direct a major rescue and control mission when, as it surely one day will, nature puts on one of its most violent, uncontrollable, displays. It’s a $970,000 taxpayer’s purchase which will prove to be worth every penny – if it can be deployed as planned.

Thirty or so years ago I stood at what was once Ground Zero in Nagasaki, chatting with a Japanese government official while trying to imagine the chaos, the death, the complete destruction, triggered by man in the blink of an eye one summer day in 1945. Even though I had survived many air raids and witnessed firsthand what seemed at the time major destruction, it was difficult to comprehend an entire city shattered or on fire with thousands lying in or underneath the rubble.

There was no eye to pity, no arm to save; no medical aid, no water, no policemen, no firemen, no medics to offer hope. I asked my friend how the city could have been so ill prepared for disaster. “We were well prepared,” he said. “But we couldn’t get to the injured and dying, every street was blocked with wreckage, water mains were shattered. Our first need was bulldozers. Ambulances, doctors, nurses, medics were useless. Fire trucks that survived the blast couldn’t reach fires. No ambulance, no medical aid could move until we cleared the roads.”

So, congratulations to Mayor Leonard on the new invaluable tool to fight nature or man-made disasters. I just hope he has it parked somewhere where it can’t be trapped by collapsed buildings, and with a bulldozer nearby to lead the way to where it can be most usefully deployed.

And I hope anyone reading this has a safety and survival kit all packed and ready with enough mouthfuls of water, food and other key essentials to sustain you and yours for a several days. It could be quite a while before the Command Post can direct Firefighters or Paramedics through the wreckage to the street where you once lived in “it can’t happen here” comfort.

So let’s all be prepared – but remember high-tech Command Posts or not, if anything can go wrong, it will.


  1. This is a top-down approach. Complementary bottom-up aid needs to be in place as well. Existing neighbourhood strengthening programs such as Blockwatch can be used more effectively. A neighbourhood where residents already communicate and have a practical basic emergency plan will be less drain on top-down resources. Plus they may be better prepared to actually help harder hit surrounding areas.

  2. I’m afraid we’ll need personal emergency gear for a lot longer than a couple of days, based on recent major disasters: it’s overwhelmingly difficult to move rubble and repair infrastructure..

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