Village builds emergency preparation one step at a time: Kyuquot, Walters Cove work together on long-distance radio

Mike Youds, March 28, 2019

Kyuquot has recently received support from the province for a ham radio system and a stock of emergency supplies. (File photo)

Kyuquot, BC — 

Kyuquot is stepping up emergency capabilities, but still sees a need to improve quake and tsunami readiness in the remote west coast village.

A $25,000 emergency social services grant from the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund (CEPF), announced by the B.C. government last week, is the third in a series of recent investments in the village’s emergency capacity.

“It’s all going toward doing ham radio training, so we can get people in the community certified to handle amateur radio,” said Steinar Vage, director of community services for the Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' First Nations (KCFN).

A second grant of a similar amount provided materials to stock an emergency “sea can,” at Kyuquot Elementary Secondary School. That gives the village a total of three steel storage containers filled with emergency provisions.

A third grant would pay for a professional assessment of the community’s evacuation plan. KCFN has also applied to Indigenous Services Canada for funds to procure a tsunami warning station.

Vage has been co-operating with Strathcona Regional District to obtain funds for purchase of ham radio equipment. Shaun Koopman, protective services co-ordinator with the SRD, said the latest funding is unique among First Nations since only treaty nations can qualify. Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' is a Maa-nulth Treaty nation.

Shared with nearby Walters Cove Resort, located on Walters Island directly across the sound from Kyuquot, the radio system will beef up long-distance communications.

“It’s so they can talk to the outside world in the event they’re cut off by a tsunami,” Koopman said.

Communications would be critical for initial response considering that there are no emergency responders stationed locally and no roads connecting Kyuquot Sound to the rest of the Island.

The possibility of a quake-related disaster is never far from home for Kyuquot’s 150 to 200 residents. In 1964, the Alaskan quake tsunami resulted in a wave equivalent to a 17-foot tide engulfing the village. Fifty years later, in 2014, a strong, magnitude-6.7 tremor rattled homes and damaged the dock. Residents were quick to evacuate. Drills are held regularly by the school.

“We are working constantly on bettering our preparation and we could definitely be in a better place,” Vage said. “We are in the process of hiring a full-time employee in the emergency planning department. Emergency planning is one of those things that gets pushed to the side of my desk. It shouldn’t be, but there are just so many things to stay on top of.”

Like other vulnerable B.C. coastal communities, they are marking gradual progress after years of scarce resources.

“What’s really exciting is, we’re working on a pilot project with Emergency Management B.C. to open up six radio frequencies to local government,” Koopman said.

Provincial officials have said they’re willing to give the radio channels a try. Currently, all amateur radio operators require certification. If successfully implemented, the high-powered radio frequencies could be operated by anyone in the event of an emergency, he said, adding that a few technical complications still need to be resolved.

“That would be great for remote communities in B.C.,” Koopman said.

Gold River, Ucluelet and Tofino also received a share of the $1.5 million in CEPF funds.

“Having the right tools is key when it comes to responding to and recovering from any type of disaster,” said Jennifer Rice, parliamentary secretary for Emergency Preparedness. “Providing funding like this increases the capacity of our communities to respond in the event of an emergency and improves resiliency when it comes time to recover and rebuild.”

According to scientists, there is a 12 percent probability that a catastrophic quake will occur along the southern B.C. coast in the next 50 years.

“Every audit from the province that’s been done in the last five years has indicated a major gap in our ability to respond to a major quake,” Koopman noted.

Under the previous provincial government, Emergency Management B.C. was reduced to a staff of 50-60, limited in its capacity beyond responding to immediate needs such as flood and wildfire relief. Now, EMBC has about 200 employees and has assumed the additional role of assisting First Nation communities, Koopman said.