Time to consider disaster preparedness 

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Nepal may be half a world away geographically, but this week it is on the minds of Whistlerites, as if it were next door.

As the tiny nation struggles to cope with a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has killed thousands, left millions homeless and injured, toppled historic monuments and changed the face of Everest, those who love the mountains were reminded of the power of nature.

Of course, almost as soon as the news broke Whistler's social media was buzzing because locals were on the ground there. It has always been and remains a destination connected to the adventurous soul of Whistler.

Over 400 Canadians are registered as being in Nepal, though the number could be higher as the registration is voluntary.

At press deadline those from Whistler in Nepal were safe — at least one helping in the relief effort.

Nations from around the world have opened their wallets — Canada has pledged $5 million and is sending military aid on the ground — and there is no doubt that help of every variety will be needed as the tiny nation, already struggling to maintain itself, copes with the disaster. As always though choose where you give carefully — the Red Cross and UNICEF are good choices.

The United Nations estimates the quake has affected about 40 per cent of people in Nepal, a nation of 26.6 million.

The earthquake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years. It was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, Tibet and Pakistan. Nepal's worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8 on the Richter scale and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

This is an emergency on an epic scale.

But in the last few weeks here at home we have experienced more modest emergencies, but ones with lesson nonetheless.

The bunker fuel spill in English Bay from a grain freighter, the fire at the Squamish docks and the release of a giant slab of granite off the Stawamus Chief were all reminders that being prepared is everyone's responsibility.

Governments are the lead agencies in times of large-scale disasters but individuals, businesses and others also have to play a role in the recovery.

May 3 to 9 is Emergency Preparedness Week.

With all that we have witnessed, it's a good time to look around and make sure that you, and those you care about, can survive for 72 hours without support. That means having enough water, medications if you need them, food, even supplies for your pets.

This seems like a luxurious idea as we see the photos coming out of Nepal where subsistence is the norm, and most would not be able to have emergency supplies put aside.

One Nepalese man interviewed by the media said he would return to Indonesia to work, after only returning to his family in Nepal a short time ago, to earn money — he could make as much in Indonesia in one month as he could in Nepal before the earthquake in one year.

Whistler has an Emergency Planning Committee, which is responsible for providing policy guidance and determine priorities for the Whistler Emergency Program. It establishes communications links between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and key community stakeholders to ensure coordination and collaboration regarding issues and activities related to emergency preparedness. 

The RMOW has also just updated its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP), which was endorsed by council on Nov. 4, 2014. 

It has completed a hazard, risk and vulnerability assessment to better prepare the community for various types of emergencies and has identified 32 local hazards, of which five have a high hazard rating. One of the top hazards is earthquake.

"Earthquakes have the potential to damage or destroy much of the infrastructure communities rely on," states the report.

"Fire following an earthquake is very common in post-disaster environments. Contaminated water is also a concern post-earthquake. Water can become contaminated with microorganisms, such as bacteria, sewage, industrial waste, chemicals, and other substances."

And, of course, with only one road in and out of the resort, Highway 99, there is an even greater need for residents to be self-supporting initially.

So as we grieve with the people of Nepal and reach out to help them, spend a few minutes helping yourself and others just in case the next major disaster we deal with is right here at home.


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