What I hear when we talk about terrorism


A problem, but not our problem

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 2, 2015

We can’t live our lives in fear. Terrorists want to instill fear into us, and as a whole it’s working. In the wake of a tragedy, we can all feel that fear. We all sympathize with the victims, and worry about our own safety. What’s stopping an attack from happening here, close to home? The answer: nothing.

Yet we all believe that there is a solution. We believe that if we can work together and put aside all our differences, we can fix everything.

When people talk about terrorism, what I hear is a situation akin to a natural disaster. But instead of earthquakes, hurricanes, and diseases, we suffer the wrath of people, Mother Nature’s most notorious killer. We understand the shift of tectonic plates, but we have yet to understand these “people.” We want to fight them, but can we fight a way of thinking? Can we fight a hurricane?

When I hear people talk about terrorism, I think about all the bad people in world—or merely those who we consider bad. I wonder what made them this way. I wonder how safe I am from becoming one of those people. How thin is that line from being the person running away from a bomb to being the person wearing the bomb?

The media presents terrorism through the lens of fear and anger. And so we fear it and we are angry at it. Yet, we seldom prepare for it. We expect it to stop somehow, as if that tragic time before will be the last time. We all know that earthquakes are never going to stop. Should one happen and we are caught unaware, we have nobody to blame. However, when a terrorist attack occurs and we are caught unprepared, we blame the act itself. We don’t blame the earthquake for being an earthquake?

Perhaps it’s time we react to terrorism as a continuous problem, one that is as natural as the movement of the earth, the temperature shift of the atmosphere, and our own poor health. We keep addressing terrorism as the terrorists’ problem—they are the ones that need to change. They are the ones that need to die, before they kill us. It is not their problem; it is our problem. If a fire takes place in our house, it is not the fire’s job to put itself out. It’s our problem. We need to know immediately what to do after the flame goes out of control.

What I hear when we talk about terrorism? I hear us trying to solve a problem that has existed forever. People killing other people. It’s a virus that lives within our humanity. In one form or another, it’ll continue to happen. It’s natural. Terrorist attacks, school shootings, mass murders: to stop these problems is, in a way, to stop being humans.

Warning signs ignored


Lacklustre earthquake should alert us, not relieve us



By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

I didn’t crawl under my table during the 6.7-magnitude earthquake near Vancouver Island on April 24. In fact, I didn’t even notice until my social media erupted with comments concerning the swaying of homes and buildings.

I walked away from the situation slightly relieved that the worst that had happened was the reminder that I was spending too much time on the Internet and that I was so unprepared for natural disasters.

But give me a break, it’s hard to think about the collapse of my city when I’ve got so many other immediate things to worry about—that’s right, I’m saying that I’m not the only one who didn’t go under a table or quickly locate the emergency kit. If you did feel the shake, you were probably too busy enjoying the novelty to notice what it was. Preparing for an earthquake is just not a human instinct.

Still I don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t anticipating “the Big One,” the name of the megathrust earthquake that was prophesied to hit the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States in the (very) near future. Images of Japan, Indonesia, and Chile remind me that earthquakes are nothing to joke about. Should it hit with the force predicted, my life would shift, like if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. At this current state of preparedness, I just hope to survive if the Big One hits.

The earthquake earlier this year was a reminder that our government, our emergency teams, and we citizens are never going to be ready for an earthquake. There is just no such thing as “ready.” There is no saying when it would hit and where you would be. Sure, there are protocols to follow after the incident and there are measures to be taken to mitigate damage, but aside from that it’s a crapshoot. I believe natural disasters occur with the consistency of lottery tickets—you might be lucky enough to survive or you might be less lucky.

Individually, we cannot do much after an earthquake, but together we can pump money into funding that will help us survive in the aftermath. Emergency Management BC currently supplies $6.2 million of funding to “emergency services.” There is no plan to increase the figure since no one can really assess the damage before it occurs. Money is one thing, but having experienced teams prepared is another.

Civilians need to know what to do after the earthquake. What would people downtown do? What would people on the coast of Vancouver Island do? What would people sleeping at home do? What about the people commuting on a highway? The government should go into some length explaining the proper procedures following the quake and the aftershocks.

We need a plan we can all follow, because cluelessness will surely lead to chaos. I am often clueless without my social media—and lord knows I won’t have that after the Big One knocks out my Wi-Fi.

Hiding under the table is one thing, but we need to know what to do once we emerge.

Not ‘if’ but ‘when’


Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 16 2012

British Columbia prepares for ‘the Big One’
By Elliot Chan, Contributor

Vancouverites sure are a whiny bunch. There’s never not something for us to complain about: it’s always raining, the traffic is bad, and it costs way too much to live here. We could go on and on, but it’s not until tragedy comes along that things are put into perspective.

For years now, citizens of the Pacific Northwest have been warned about “the Big One,” an impending catastrophic earthquake with no equal in recent history. Caused by the Cascadia subduction zone, an area off of the west coast where two tectonic plates meet. The movements of both plates force one beneath the other, causing tension to build up beneath the earth. When the tension is finally released, it will generate the most devastating of earthquakes, known as a megathrust.

There have been 15 megathrust earthquakes recorded in human history; the most recent being the 2011 9.0 magnitude in Japan. The Japanese were recognized for their earthquake preparations, but after watching their coastal towns get wiped away by tsunamis, we must turn the lens on ourselves and ask how properly equipped we are for a disaster of equal or greater proportion.

Give us 100 years and we still won’t be able to build an earthquake-resistant city. What we can do is apply our knowledge and preparation and create a system that will lessen the effects. Mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery are the four pillars of earthquake readiness.

The Shake Out

The first Great British Columbia Shake Out was held last year on January 26, in memory of the earthquake that struck BC on the same day in 1700. The Shake Out is a province-wide earthquake drill, where participants practice and demonstrate safety procedures. Possibly receiving publicity from the ominous nature attached to the year 2012, the Shake Out has enjoyed a surge in exposure for its second outing. The British Columbia Shake Out will take place on October 18 at 10:18 a.m. So wherever you are at this time, take a moment to test your reaction and comprehension of a safe earthquake protocol.

Douglas College is amongst the 18 post-secondary institutions participating in the drill this year. A committee of local, provincial, and federal governments, as well as private sectors and non-governmental organizations are responsible for organizing the Shake Out. This committee is in charge of spreading earthquake awareness to the apathetic masses. Although they are unable to predict when a damaging earthquake will strike, experts agree that there is a 1/3 chance of one hitting in the next 50 years, the same odds as contracting a heart disease (stroke, diabetes, etc.) So, along with eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising, we must also be prepared for earthquakes.

Captain Brock Henson, the Emergency Program Officer of Saanich, informed The Other Press that on the 18th, over 100 different drills will be conducted by different organizations and first response agencies. Speaking on behalf of the fire departments, Henson stated that these earthquake procedures include getting the fire truck out of the hall, insuring that communications are running, and inspecting the building for safety and capability for operation. From there, many untraditional emergency drills will be conducted.

The Quake

The severity of earthquakes is one of the many things Vancouverites neglect, though I can’t blame them. We can’t necessarily live our lives anticipating disaster, but it’s reckless to be ignorant—especially after we’ve been given extensive warning.

Earthquakes are nature’s most violent fits. The best strategy is far from heroic: the drop, cover, and hang on for dear life method.

Common myths advise you to seek safety beneath a doorway or run outside. In the occurrence of a megathrust, however, these methods are regarded as unsafe. In many modern buildings, doorways are no more soundly structured than any other part, while it’s been proven that falling objects inside buildings more often injure people than the buildings themselves.

If you are in a room without any immediate shelter, do not flee. Instead, crouch down in the corner for stability and cover your head and face. If you happen to be outside, quickly find an open area without power lines or buildings. If you are driving, pull over and remain inside the vehicle. The key points to remember during an earthquake are: if you are inside, stay inside; if you are outside, stay outside; and avoid anything that may break or fall.


The Aftermath

So you survived the upheaval, but the crisis is far from over. After the noise and quiver of the first shake, be ready for an aftershock that could occur anywhere from minutes to days after. Until then, follow the safety procedure and exit any building, assuming it is damaged. Any structure built before 2005’s strict earthquake code or ones that haven’t been subjected to seismic upgrades are seriously at risk of collapsing. Vancouver has over 8,000 buildings considered vulnerable, should a seismic attack hit.

Expect to be on your own without any emergency response for the next 72 hours after an earthquake. Electricity and telephone reception, both landline and cellular, will most likely be down. If communication has not been completely severed, Henson wants people to refrain from making phone calls. For those who need to communicate, sending text messages is the best means for contacting others.

Different areas of the Lower Mainland will suffer different consequences following the earthquake. Congested areas like downtown Vancouver will be isolated, as all bridges will be closed. Don’t consider driving or traveling far either, as the city will be one big construction site—what else is new though?

Although, the Lower Mainland is not a high-risk tsunami zone, coastal areas should still be avoided. All the while, Vancouver Island and Northern BC should take tsunami precautions. Waves have been known to hit land within minutes after the initial shock. The best way to prepare for such a crisis is to be knowledgeable about your surroundings. After an earthquake, experts estimate that citizens only have 10 minutes to get to higher ground, preferably 15 metres above sea level.

In the Lower Mainland, communities in Richmond, Delta, and the Fraser Valley built at sea level will be at the greatest risk. The soft, swampy foundation will cause flooding and soil liquefaction. Mitigation is the main defense; from there, the city can only hope that the structural standards and regular dike inspections are protection enough from the inevitable.

In all the scenarios, it is important to locate proper necessities, both medical and sustenance. No one should be complacent when it comes to survival gear. Take an afternoon and go stock up with a friend, a co-worker, or a family member. Preparation for an earthquake may seem tedious, but it is your responsibility to ensure as much as possible has been done to prepare. Miracles are not a reality, but earthquakes are. So don’t be surprised if tomorrow the globe stammers and whiny ol’ Vancouver is left speechless.