Whistler has had its share of emergencies over the years. From the earliest days there have been issues with rockslides on the highway and bridges washing out, while road closures and power outages due to snowstorms are a regular occurrence during the winter months.
Some incidents are more serious than others.
In 2003 access to Whistler was blocked in both directions, with a surging Cheakamus River washing out the highway to the south and a bridge to the north over Rutherford Creek. There was no warning system for motorists at the time and three men in northbound vehicles were killed driving into the creek.
Last summer the highway south was closed for almost five days after a rock slide dumped debris over both lanes of the highway and the train tracks south of Squamish. The northern option was still available for transporting people and goods, but you wouldn't have known it by the panicked rush to buy groceries, gas up cars, and empty bank machines.
But while Whistler has seen its share of disasters over the years, there has always been the potential for far worse.
For example, Whistler has always had the potential for serious wildfires, and homes built into the interface forests on both sides of the valley are in danger of burning - similar to what happened in Kelowna in 2003.
There is also the potential for earthquakes as Whistler sits on a generally quiet but recognized fault line. Flooding generally happens to the north and south of Whistler, but a multi-million dollar project is currently underway to mitigate a land slump on Fitzsimmons Creek that could have triggered a flash flood that might have swamped parts of the village and some neighbourhoods downstream.
Snowstorms and power outages are common, but there is always the possibility for an ice storm or a serious snow event that could knock out power or shut the highway for days. Train derailments are also on the radar, opening the possibility for chemical spills.
To the south of Whistler there is ongoing concern that the barrier that holds back Garibaldi Lake will one day crumble and wash out the highway, railway, and almost everything else in the path of the floodwaters.
Some threats seem a little more far-fetched but they're there. For example, in 2012 there is some concern in the scientific community that unusual solar flare activity could be severe enough to damage the power grid and communications network. There's the threat of terrorism related to the 2010 Games.
Whatever the circumstances, Whistler has a plan in place to handle it that incorporates emergency services, community services, government agencies, volunteers, and equipment that is stored in the event of an emergency. But the Provincial Emergency Plan also recommends that individuals and families plan to survive at least 72 hours without assistance.
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