Interest rises in disaster readiness

June 23, 2005, vol. 33, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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Academe's dynamic duo in the field of disaster preparedness hopes the turnout at a recent presentation of their research is a measure of the corporate world's interest in disaster preparedness.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) recently invited earth scientist John Clague and communications consultant Peter Anderson to present their work at the ICBC emergency response team's Lunch and Learn presentation series.

It occurred in May at ICBC's head office on the North Shore during the corporation's annual emergency preparedness week. About 60 employees, many of them designated first responders in a disaster, attended the two days of presentations.

Clague, a Canada Research Chair in natural hazards research, talked about the Lower Mainland's vulnerability to numerous types of natural hazards. He presented his latest research on earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, the subject of a new book to be published this year.

Anderson, a disaster-management information system designer, reviewed the impact of the forest fires that ravaged B.C.'s interior in 2003.

Anderson demonstrated how he and his colleagues at SFU's Telematics Research Laboratory have incorporated lessons learned in the design and construction of SFU's new emergency communications vehicle. ICBC staff had a chance to tour the specialized vehicle capable of rapidly deploying advanced communications in remote regions.

Clague and Anderson note that corporations, such as ICBC, are not their usual lecture circuit fare. Invitations typically come from community groups, schools and non-geological professional groups.

“But I have been averaging two presentations per month on natural disasters since the beginning of 2005,” says Clague. “This is a significant increase over recent years, due to word of mouth referrals and greater interest in natural disasters, especially after the South Asian tsunami of December 2004.”

“Given that many private and non-government organizations now serve vital public support functions, it's essential that they be included in community emergency preparedness activities,” says Anderson. He also has been speaking to more diverse audiences. They include emergency managers, policy makers, health care workers and telecommunications providers.

Michael Stenner, a computing analyst with ICBC and a member of the corporation's emergency response team, organizes the Lunch and Learn series.

“We invite guest speakers to further educate our staff and responders on how they might better prepare themselves and their families to deal with emergency situations,” says Stenner.

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