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COMMENTARY · 28th October 2012
Walter McFarlane
At 8:00 pm on October 27th, I was listening to people speak at the Haisla Recreation Centre. I had plans to meet up with friends afterwards and I wasn’t ready for what was about to occur. Shortly after Chief Jassee finished speaking, I could feel the floor moving beneath my feet.

It would later be described as a rolling earthquake which lasted about a minute. It was the first quake I ever noticed so the thought did not cross my mind until one of the people who I was sitting with pointed it out.

No one left the recreation centre until after the rolling. Marilyn Furlan noted the earthquake through the microphone and the festivities continued. I apologized to her for leaving but I needed to check in with the office and congratulated Chief G’psgolox on the recovery of the artifact.

I checked my phone as I left the Recreation Centre and got into my car. There were no bars. I stopped at the viewpoint just outside the village and checked again. There were still no bars.

I headed straight for the viewpoint in Kitimat to make my call. There were several vehicles already there. After making my call, I asked the other people at the viewpoint if there was anything information about the Earthquake. I was told Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated. It was all online.

With no way to verify, I headed to the Kitimat Fire Department, the emergency headquarters of our community, to get the words right from the horse’s mouth. A fire truck and an ambulance waited outside, ready to deploy. Inside, fire fighters were in the watch room, waiting, checking the net. They had heard no such order to evacuate Kildala.

It took me a little longer to get home than planned. I received several phone calls from friends who wanted to know what I had heard. Some were talking about evacuation. Others told me the phones were down following the quake. I learned none of them had been able to get through to the emergency line for further information.

It took some time for me to get to my computer and start checking for this evacuation notice.

My first stop was my inbox. Notta. Kitimat Daily? Nothing new. District of Kitimat Webpage? Nothing. Competition? As I write this at 3:12 in the morning, they still haven’t updated their local site on the quake. I turned on the local station. A retro hockey game was playing.

I received more calls about chaos at the gas pumps and about a long line of cars trying to get out of town.

It was 9:41 pm when we finally received a call from the District informing us we would be receiving a fax about the potential evacuation. It was a second hand press release, not from the District of Kitimat. I retyped it and put it on the site before proofreading it.

The release made it look like town wouldn't be touched.

As I was posting it, Channel 7 finally started covering the earthquake and threat of a tsunami… I heard one of the reporters I'd been sitting with in Kitamaat Village recounting what had happened. I received a phone call almost immediately from a friend asking me if my site was telling people to evacuate.

But the press release was vague. While it referred to the North Coast, it did not define it. From watching the news, I now know the North Coast is Rupert up.

The second fax came in. I checked the website which the information came from. It was down. Then an update on the news. Then the tsunami was reduced to an advisory. I missed the memo. A paper jam ate the last two faxes.

The truth of the matter is, there was little communication. Between vague press releases, archaic forms of communication, miss-communication and many other factors, this earthquake created a chaotic nightmare…

… and from what I’ve heard, no one was hurt. Given the response time, it is a miracle.

This was a test of our emergency responder’s ability to communicate with the public. If this had been an actual emergency, we’d probably be dead by now.