Students in teacher Leanne Harris’ Grade 4 class at Ladysmith Intermediate were among those who participated in last Thursday’s provincewide ShakeOut BC. Here (right to left)

School board tests new emergency radios during ShakeOut BC

ShakeOut BC last Thursday was an opportunity for the school board to practise using dozens of new two-way radios

By Mike Gregory

British Columbia’s earthquake emergency preparedness exercise last Thursday was an opportunity for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board to practise using dozens of new two-way radios acquired this past summer.

The $20,000 purchase gave all 98 schools in District 68 a heavy-duty walkie-talkie that plugs into the cigarette lighter of a car and is to be used in the event of a widespread power outage resulting from a natural disaster.

“This was a big investment and a big part of our emergency preparedness plan so we know we can get the condition of our schools in all of our communities,” said Will Dirksen, safety and wellness manager at the board.

“All Nanaimo-Ladysmith public schools can now, in an emergency, radio in their condition and we didn’t have that capability before.”

School principals were trained during the last week of September to use the radios and a drill exercise took place as part of ShakeOut BC. On the day, board officials organized an emergency operation centre and used a ‘situation board’ to record all schools by district as they checked-in with officials.

“It’s pivotal to exercise radio communication so there’s a level of comfort with our staff,” Dirksen said.  “What we are doing is preparing for the eventuality that there will be no power, and no telephone communication and possibly no cellphone communication.”

Further to the ShakeOut training, 400 school board support staff, including those from Ladysmith were at John Barsby Secondary in Nanaimo on Friday for a session on emergency preparedness and to hear from speakers from the Vancouver board, BC Hydro and a doctor who was in Nepal during the April 2015 quake.

Meanwhile, the Town of Ladysmith was also practising its own emergency procedures during ShakeOut BC,  including visits to facilities and a debrief by the fire chief.

“Without a doubt having an aging infrastructure, some of the buildings are fairly old, so an earthquake is something that we need to be quite conscious about,” said city manager Guillermo Ferrero.

“The geography of Ladysmith, just because we’re in a very steep keel, that could generate some challenges, stormwater flooding that kind of thing … but really we’re not any different from other communities around.”

The municipality has a partnership with others in Cowichan Valley Regional District when it comes to sharing key services.

“We take an approach for emergency preparedness at a regional level which allows us to be way more cost effective by sharing some of those resources,” Ferrero said.

As part of regular training by Ladysmith officials, the town will further undertake a tabletop exercise in about a month to simulate response efforts to a flood. The local Emergency Operations Centre will be activated on that day and town employees will all have key roles.

Even more recently staff were on call two weeks ago as the remnants of Typhoon Songda, including what forecasters warned could be 100 km/h winds,  threatened to do damage to the island.

Ferrero said staff undertake the proper training to ensure they have the skills to safely address any emergency situation that arises.

“We go through all the steps of knowing what is it that we need to do to provide proper emergency services to the community,” he said.