Diagrams and words can only go so far. June Younge wants to show rather than tell. For that reason, she drops to the carpeted floor to demonstrate the best position for surviving the massive earthquake expected to some day rattle B.C.
During a visit to The Globe and Mail’s B.C. bureau, Ms. Younge sits against a wall, pulls up her knees and raises her arms to touch the sides of her head. Thus positioned, she expects she would be protected if overhead fixtures were shaken loose by a devastating quake that would turn the downtown of Canada’s third-largest city into a disaster zone.
“It kind of forms a roll cage,” she later says of the posture. “You’ve got all your big bones trying to protect your internal organs.”
Earlier, the 57-year-old ducked under an office table for a photo, showing how routine furniture could also shield a person from falling items.
The routines come easily to Ms. Younge, one of 25 civilian volunteers for the emergency-planning department of the City of Vancouver. By invitation, they visit apartments, condos, community centres and businesses preaching the gospel of emergency preparedness for the Big One. Their reward is a golf shirt and an annual meeting where the mayor expresses his thanks.
Jackie Kloosterboer, a City of Vancouver emergency planner, says the city lacks the staff for this kind of earthquake-prep outreach, so, for about 15 years, it has relied on volunteers like Ms. Younge to promote the preparation of earthquake survival kits with first-aid items, food, fresh water and other necessities. The volunteers sketch out the likelihood that many people will be on their own, for at least 72 hours after a quake, before emergency services can respond to individual needs.
There are straightforward lectures – Ms. Younge, and her flip charts. But there are also lectures tailored for seniors, and on how to handle pets during such disasters. Lectures are being delivered in Cantonese and Mandarin. In 2011, there were 300 such presentations across the city. In 2012, there were about 260 as of last week.
Ms. Younge says her message hinges on the prospect that disaster strikes without warning. “One minute you’re fine, the next minute your life can be in turmoil. That’s really how we start, and that emphasizes the fact we need to be prepared because we never know.
“If someone said, ‘In five days we’re going to have an earthquake,’ there would probably be a lot of preparation going on, but we don’t know when it will happen. It’s like any disaster. They usually strike without any warning and you just have to deal with it – quickly.”
Her philosophy is that preparation provides the strength to cope.
Ms. Younge makes her rounds of central Vancouver with the wisdom learned through training sessions from the city and her experience as a safety co-ordinator with the engineering company AMEC.
The Saskatchewan native, who hasn’t experienced a major earthquake, moved to B.C. in 2004, then from the northern reaches of the province to downtown Vancouver in 2009.
After watching two city sessions a little more than a year ago, she decided to volunteer herself. “I like volunteering,” says Ms. Younge. “I thought this would be a good fit.”
She was ready to go after a training session with Ms. Kloosterboer.
Ms. Younge says passion fuels a good presentation. Also, she prods her audiences with questions to get them thinking and participating. She chuckles when asked about the strangest question she has fielded. Ms. Younge recalls the woman who said she would – postquake – go into a park and pitch a tent.
“I said, ‘That’s really not what you want to be doing.’ When you go outside and something like that has happened, we’re going to have trees down. Things are going to be falling, maybe not from the initial shock, but there are aftershocks when things dislodge. You have to keep yourself in a space where you can be pr otected – inside a building.
“As much as people want to run out, you’re not going to be able to go anywhere. Where are you going to go? There’s not going to be anywhere to go to get away.”