In an audit released by Jones on Tuesday, the Auditor General found that Emergency Management B.C. – the organization tasked with preparing government’s response to disasters – and the provincial government have not made preparing for an earthquake a priority.
The EMBC is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and responds to approximately 6,000 incidents a year related to dangerous good spills, search and rescue, major floods, fires, landslides and avalanches.
The majority of staff time is spent on immediate emergencies and the lack of critical long-term resources (such as a logistics planner) and its limited funding constrain its ability to plan for a large-scale earthquake, the audit says.
EMBC’s current operating budget for emergency activities sits around $6.2 million, about the same as in 2006 despite the fact B.C.’s population has increased by 10 per cent and its property value has doubled since then.
No significant progress been made to prepare for a catastrophic earthquake since the AG’s office first identified gaps in 1997, Jones said.
“Successive government have decided to allocate scarce public resources to meet more immediate pressing demands, rather than to adequately prepare the province for a catastrophic earthquake that may or may not occur,” said Jones in a statement. “EMBC staff is busy with daily emergencies such as floods and fires so catastrophic earthquake planning is done as a side-of-desk activity.”
The report makes nine recommendations, including one that says the government should develop long-term goals and set level of preparedness targets for EMBC to achieve in the next five, 10 and 15 years.
The Ministry of Justice responded saying it will “be taking immediate action on all nine” of the AG’s recommendations.
“It’s a tough report,” admitted Minister Suzanne Anton to media in Victoria. “What the Auditor General is missing, and what I’m going to be working on, is what’s the big picture, what is the overall structure. We do need to put that bigger picture in place.”
Her first attempt at addressing the AG’s concerns didn’t go smoothly.
Anton announced a consultation and public education campaign on earthquake preparedness on March 11 in advance of the audit’s release.
But the plan was immediately mired in controversy over the appointment of former B.C. Solicitor General John Les as co-chair.
His $140,000 contract, and questions over qualifications, was seen as a patronage appointment, leading to Premier Christy Clark quickly putting an end to his involvement.
NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan called Jones’ findings “damning” and criticized the government’s response.
“The only emergency that the B.C. Liberals were prepared for was a political one,” she said. – Metro News.