Floods, hazardous materials incidents, explosions, gas leaks, wildfires, dam failure, airplane crashes, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, snowstorms, heat waves, lightning disasters and tsunamis are all risks to Revelstoke, according to the Revelstoke and Area Emergency Management Plan (RAEMP).
Tsunamis? According to Jerry Silva, Emergency Program Coordinator for the Revelstoke and Area Emergency Management Program, tsunamis are a possible threat to Revelstoke. They’d be caused by terrestrial slides slipping into the Revelstoke Dam reservoir, sending out waves that have the potential to spill over the Revelstoke Dam.
Of particular concern is the Downie Slide located 64 kilometres north of the Revelstoke Dam. The concern is a large portion of earth could slip into the reservoir at that point.
In 1963, that exact scenario unfolded at the Vajont Dam in Italy. A wave washed over the dam and caused over 2,000 deaths when it flooded the Piave Valley below the dam. At the time, engineers were filling up the Vajont Dam, and they had ignored similar landslides in the reservoir as it approached full pond.
However, the Downie Slide location was extensively studied prior to the construction of the Revelstoke Dam. Long-time residents will remember studies and controversial panels held in the 1970s. Today, the Downie Slide site is monitored by electronic sensors. While a discussion of a tsunami in Revelstoke may be topical, Silva doesn’t say the threat of that type of flood here is a major concern, saying it was “very, very low.” There would be lots of forewarning in the event something started to give at the Downie Slide site. “I suspect it would be days,” Silva said.
What are the major disaster threats to Revelstoke?
The Times Review contacted Silva in the wake of the tsunami disaster in Japan to find out the top threats and also how residents can be prepared. Silva identified the top two.
1. Interface wildfire
Silva said interface wildfires are the number one threat to Revelstoke in terms of scale and potential damage. Silva gives the example of the 2003 wildfire that destroyed about 240 homes in the Kelowna area.
While little can be done to stop an out of control wildfire, Silva notes there is a Ministry of Forests fire base in Revelstoke, and that interface firefighting techniques have been getting better at mitigating damage to property. “Does it torch the entire city? No, I can’t visualize that,” Silva said.
2. Hazardous Materials Incident
Silva notes that all kinds of hazardous materials pass through Revelstoke on the railway or the highway. Flammable, compressed gasses can cause tremendous explosions. A major incident could mean a forced evacuation within a 1.5 kilometre radius — which could mean the majority of Revelstoke, depending on the location of the event.
What can you do to be prepared?
Jerry Silva says the key preparedness message is simple: Have a plan and be ready to take care of yourself and your family for 72 hours. That can mean 72 hours hunkered down at home in a winter power outage, or being able to get in the car and leave on short notice. A federal government website will guide your family through creating your own preparedness program. Website: www.getprepared.gc.ca
How will I know what’s going on?
Silva says there will be several sources of up to date information in the event on an incident.
The RAEMP program distributes information to local news sources, such as radio stations or news websites. (The Revelstoke Times Review website at www.revelstoketimesreview.com is a source of up-to-date information on unfolding emergency incidents. We posted information on the Jan. 18 Lanark Slide flood scare within 15 minutes of it being provided by authorities. The website is available via cell phone during power outages.)
The RAEMP program also maintains its own website where it posts updates. See the “emergency notice” tab on their website at www.revemergency.com.
In the event of an emergency evacuation, the RAEMP program mobilizes police and firefighters to do door-to-door notifications, including using loudspeakers.