Sunday, October 20, 2019
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Earthquake education leaves some new immigrants unprepared

Few initiatives by the City of Vancouver and community groups exist to educate new immigrants about earthquakes

By Hillary Kang and Jonathan Ventura , in City , on October 25, 2017

When new immigrants arrive in Vancouver, they are walking into one of the continent’s most active seismic zones.

But few initiatives by the City of Vancouver and community groups exist to educate new immigrants about earthquakes in Vancouver. Those that exist fall short in addressing all of the unique struggles immigrants face.

“In terms of creating awareness for immigrant[s], I think that we should probably be doing a lot of work in that area,” said Ayo Kuponiyi, a Nigerian immigrant completing his PhD in geophysics at University of Victoria.

Other places like California, with a large immigrant population, are focusing on getting the information out through schools and local community health-care providers, who are often in contact with the most immigrants.

However, in B.C., the Ministry of Education does not have a mandate for earthquake education in schools, leaving it optional for individual school boards to provide earthquake education.

Many immigrants “probably know little or nothing that [B.C.] is an earthquake zone,” Kuponiyi said. “Whatever your preparation is, it cannot be too much.”

Volunteers provide education during the ShakeOut event.

Kuponiyi was one of more than 890,000 people across B.C. who participated in last week’s Great British Columbia ShakeOut, a drill that helps B.C. residents practice what to do during an earthquake.

Immigrant Services Society of BC also participated in the event, providing government assisted refugees an opportunity to practice the emergency response of drop, cover, and hold on.

“Quite often people can’t afford [emergency kits],” said Veronica Lee, the facilities manager of the immigrant services society. She sees a need for financial aid for emergency kits. With limited resources, the organization is only able to provide training on earthquake drills once a year.

The threat of a major earthquake hitting Vancouver is real, with a one in four chance that this will happen in the next 50 years. A study from the Insurance Bureau of Canada showed that if a megathrust earthquake hits the B.C. coast, the cost could reach $75 billion. Despite this, Vancouver has limited initiatives for immigrants, leaving organizations like the immigrant services society and the Canadian Red Cross to fill the void.

The Canadian Red Cross provides SmartStart, a program that provides newcomers and non-native English speakers with disaster and emergency preparedness training as well as firstaid training in more than 10 languages.

But training in certain languages depends on the availability of volunteers, said Andrew Hopkins, a Red Cross communications advisor for B.C. and the Yukon.

The City of Vancouver also offers free sessions on earthquake preparedness at community centres. Volunteers who speak other languages are able to teach the session if a request is made. The city has handouts translated in simplified Chinese and Punjabi. The city is working on getting them translated to other languages, according to Jackie Kloosterboer, the emergency planner for the city

Kloosterboer said, while it’s ultimately everyone’s responsibility to get prepared, she sees that there is room for improvement in educating new immigrants and that the city is moving towards doing so. With only simplified Chinese and English on its website, the city is in the process of translating materials into more languages that reflect Vancouver’s diverse population.

Kloosterboer stressed the urgency of the situation, saying that “probably 20 to 30 per cent of our population is prepared,” a telling sign that many local residents, in addition to new immigrants, are not ready.

“People that have lived here forever are not prepared and I think it’s something we need to do right across the board, new immigrants as well.”

Student participates in B.C.’s largest earthquake drill, the Great B.C. ShakeOut.