In part one I told a story about a sea kayaking trip in Haida Gawii that taught me "ignorance is NOT bliss." This experience changed my life and set me up to be a better naturalist, a more aware and educated world traveler, and better prepared for earthquakes, tsunamis and the unexpected.
If you have not read post one, check it out here
In this post, I will share a contrasting story with some real clear takeaways you can apply to your next vacation or in everyday life.
Contrary to what many believe, being better prepared and more aware of hazards does not need to take up much of your time. If approached with the right attitude it can grow your knowledge of the natural world, enhance your travels and build tremendous confidence, thus reducing the need for fear.
This past fall I went back out to Vancouver Island (literally two weeks before the tsunami warning and evacuations). I took a little bit of time to make sure this next trip was blissful, but that I was not ignorant like I was during my sea kayaking adventure and past trips to the coast.
Here are 6 tips for traveling safer, enriching your experience, increasing knowledge & having fun!
** P.S. This list is a starting point and not all-inclusive. Please do your own research around your unique needs. Help others by sharing your findings, travel tips and experiences in the comments at the bottom.
1) Print local tsunami zone maps & register for local alert systems
Before flying west, I took 10 minutes to visit the Emergency preparedness websites for the two areas I was visiting, Victoria & Tofino. Both had maps of the Tsunami evacuations zones and routes. I printed both.
Victoria also had an emergency alert system I could sign up for online that would send me a text if there was an emergency warning. This would still be useful if I were in Tofino.
I also have an earthquake and tsunami alert app on my phone. You can see which ones I use here.
It is also important to know what the different levels of warnings mean. Do you have to start evacuating when there is a tsunami advisory? Do you know the answer?
For many disasters there are:
1) Special Information Statements
2) A particular Hazard, Watch
3) A particular Hazard, Advisory
4) A particular Hazard, Warning
Take a few moments to look up the meanings of these different terms and how you need to respond (or do not need to) under each. To get started, visit your local or provincial/state governments emergency page. Large organizations such Public Safety Canada, FEMA, Red Cross, etc., will also have this information available.
2) Put a basic travel emergency kit together
Again, this does not need to take long or be a lot of extra weight. Consider the variables and imagine what that situation might look like. What essential gear may you want to have on you? This should be light and able to e carried on your back if you need to evacuate fast.
Here are a few of the items I brought with me:
Shelter: rain poncho, emergency blanket, Sol Bivvy bag, wool blanket, rope
Water: 2-liter water bottle and water purification tablets
Fire: lighter in waterproof container and a Ferro rod with cotton balls soaked in vaseline, headlamp with extra batteries
Food: 8 cliff bars, 3 can of sardines, 2 cans of salmon, 1 block of coconut oil, emergency fishing kit
Travel & Communications: apps on phone, emergency hand-cranked radio, maps of tsunami evacuation zones, maps of the island, a paper copy of important phone numbers.
Health & hygiene: basic first aid kit, pain medications, small bottle of bleach, soap, perscriptions meds and contact lens if needed
This entire kit fits into the small blue 5-liter dry bag on the left. The rest of my clothes for the trip fit into a 15-liter dry bag. Keep in mind the kit should be relative to where you are going and your skill sets and training.
To view some of my recommendations for emergency gear I use personally, visit the gear section.
3) Know the hazards and the variables they could create
It's one thing to know your in a potential earthquake or tsunami zone, but what many forget to consider is the multiple ways this disaster could play out and who this could change your planning and options.
Going to Vancouver Island, there were several variables I considered. Multiple different faultlines on the west coast of North America could trigger an event, each would have a different impact on the coast and thus my survival stratgey. The most relevant possible scenarios to me were;
1) The active Juan De Fuca fault line under Victoria & Vancouver. This could trigger massive earthquakes, but likely would NOT trigger a tsunami
2) The fault line between The Juan De Fuca Plate and the North American Plate off the coast of Tofino. This would be likely to cause an earthquake and a tsunami with only 15 minutes warning in Tofino and along other parts of Vancouver Island.
3) The fault line between The Juan De Fuca Plate and the North American Plate off the coast of Alaska. This is where the most recent large earthquake and tsunami warning occurred (Jan 23, 2018). This earthquake may not be felt in Canada (although it may be felt in Alaska) and the tsunami may take several hours to reach Vancouver Island (it may reach Alaska very fast though).
I hope you can see how all three of these are very different situations which require different responses on your part.
If you were on Vancouver Island when this happened, consider the following:
In situation one, you would have no warning and a potentially massive earthquake. But you do not need to evacuate to higher ground directly afterward. You can expect to have no power, running water, and lots of physical infrastructure damage. It could be weeks before necessities are restored. You need to be self-sufficient.
In situation two, You would feel the quake and need to act very quickly and evacuate if you are not on the high ground already. There may be no time to grave supplies or contact friends and loved ones. There also could be damage from the earthquake affecting your evacuation route so a plan B & C are essential.
Once on the high ground, stay there for at least 12 hours. Ideally, you have adequate clothing, water, required medications, etc.
In situation three, the likelihood of immediate physical damage to your evacuation route is a lot less. You also may have a couple of hours to get to high ground. Get there as soon as you can, but take time to grab essential gear, communicate with friends and family and get plans in place. Where will you meet up with people after the tsunami passes if the phone lines are down? How will you coordinate to work together to survive until help comes?
** Please keep in mind that this a very basic and simplified summary, and I am not a geologist. Other variables are at play that could change my suggestions on what would happen next. Take some time to do your research on the faults and the variables. What do local professional emergency agencies advise? You may find studying the geology and science behind it to be quite fascinating. I sure did!
4) Orientate yourself to the lay of the land. Look for the "holes" in evacuation routes, local emergency plans and what your options are
Upon arriving on Vancouver Island, I graved an island map from the airport to study the layout of the island and general topography.
This is not the map I used. Fins one with elevation lines and more detail!
Now, most of the time I was looking at the map, I was thinking about where I wanted to visit and explore. I was also learning about the different ecological regions of the area and the beautiful way nature shaped and influenced this landscape. But I also spent a couple of minutes considering the general layout of roads in and out of the places I was traveling.
I mentally mapped high and low regions, where I may want to go/be in various situations, and my options for getting there after a disaster. This did not take long but made me feel WAY more prepared.
One of my most significant realizations in doing this exercise was that the government recommended evacuation route for me in Tofino may not work in some scenarios. How many people consider this? Would you have?
Imagine this; it's the middle of the night and you are awoken by a shaking building. A few minutes later the tsunami sirens go off. You just woke up so you are a little slow to react. You get together with everyone in your building. By the time you do this, I bet close to five minutes have passed.
Now you need to evacuate to higher ground, you had 15 minutes, but now you are down to 10. Here are two problems:
1) Everyone else from your area is evacuating too. What if the road is damaged, in a traffic jam, or moving too slow for you to make it in time?
2) There was just an earthquake, the road you are supposed to evacuate on may have down trees or even structural damage. Does following the "official" evacuation plan even make sense in this situation?
As soon as I realized this, I downloaded an altimeter app on my phone.
We spent the next few days hiking for recreation, that was part of the reason I was out there. As we were hiking, I was continually noticing the high points, checking their approximate height with the altimeter app on my phone (keep in mind the margin of error on your app and shoot for quite a bit higher), and considering how long it would take me to get to these points.
Could I get to any high places on foot from my accommodations in less than 10 minutes? It turned out there were two other high points I could get to very quickly.
This did not take additional emergency planning time. I just integrated this into the recreational activities we were already performing. Very little work for high leverage options if I needed to use them.
Now please note, I am NOT saying to not listen to local evacuation plans. They likely are very well thought out. What I am saying is to assess if there are any situations where they may not make sense? If there is, you may want a plan B.
5) Imagine the various variables playing out, play the game!
I took a class with an excellent survival and tracking instructor named Tom Brown Jr many years ago. He suggested turning preparedness planning and growing your situational awareness but continuously playing the "what if game."
Pretend you are a character in a movie like Jason Bourne from Bourne Identity or Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games. What would they do (be realistic with your own skill set, don't get too imaginative) if a particular scenario happened right now? Make it fun, ask lots of questions, observe your surrounding and think of all your available resources and options.
I do this all the time and find it a fun and educational way to pass the time. After a long day out hiking along the ocean, I laid back on a comfy couch, and I imagined a few different scenarios playing out.
"Ok, I wake up to the house shaking, what do I do first? I get my family together. Then what? I grab the car keys, my raincoat and emergency kit and head outside to start driving. What if I get in the car to drive and the road is untravelable, then what? Time for plan B, and so on..."
Going over these scenarios a couple of times in your head will make them more second nature if you have to use them.
Now here is the kicker, for some people the act of doing this may get you stressed out. If you know you are one of these people, the likelihood of the event happening may not be worth doing this. You do not want to ruin your vacation over n event that is statistically unlikely to happen.
Here are some suggestions for you:
1) Consider doing this at home before you go where the immediate risk is not real. Once there, stop.
2) Know that the risk is real whether you think about this or not and statistically it is incredibly unlikely to happen in the short window you are.
3) By doing this, you can feel better and safer, not more afraid. Remeber my first post; ignorance is not bliss. Doing this makes you significantly more prepared, and thus this should allow you to sleep better at night knowing you have done your best and have options and tools to work with if an event occurs.
4) You know you better than I do. How else could you set yourself up for success and less stress? Maybe this is a mindset you develop over time with baby steps. What is the first step for you in doing this?
6) Study and Observe Nature
Remember, nature is always teaching us if we are ready to listen. Nature also sometimes has early warnings of potential hazards around the corner and a plethora of resources to help us thrive in tricky situations.
Pay attention to the changing weather, is the wind blowing from a different direction today then it was yesterday? Do all the birds seem agitated?, are they silent? or are they all singing?
There could be animals watching you right now that you do not even see, where would a raccoon, coyote or deer hide if it needed to avoid human danger in your current landscape. How would a mammal stay warm or dry in this landscape?
Maybe studying the geology and topography of an area for emergency preparedness alone feels excessive... I get it. But what if the emphasis is on understanding what makes this region of the world unique? How has the landscape changed over time? How did this affect wildlife and human culture? AND... how is this useful for your safety and preparedness?
Adding these fun questions about ecology and animal behavior can add to your vacation enjoyment, make you a more educated person, while simultaneously help you be more aware, prepared and resilient.