03/25/2014 03:16 EDT | Updated 05/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Catastrophic earthquake: B.C. not prepared, says report

B.C.'s emergency management agency (EMBC) is not adequately prepared for a catastrophic earthquake, according to the province's auditor general Russ Jones.

Jones also found that neither the provincial government or Emergency Management BC has made significant progress preparing for a destructive earthquake since the last report 17 years ago.

"Successive governments 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," explains Jones.

"EMBC’s current operating budget for emergency activities is approximately the same as it was in 2006. In addition, EMBC staff is busy with daily emergencies such as floods and fires so catastrophic earthquake planning is done as a side-of-desk activity."

Among the recommendations in the report, Jones said emergency officials need to "report publicly on the level of preparedness so British Columbians can understand the extent of their vulnerability and make informed decisions as to their own level of readiness. "

But Jones also said the public needs to take responsibility and prepare themselves for a major quake.

"British Columbians need to take responsibility and prepare for a catastrophic earthquake to protect themselves and their families,” says Jones. He said preparing for such an event is a shared responsibility and urged everyone to look at their own situation and ask themselves whether they are ready.

Government accepts recommendations

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, who oversees emergency planning, said the government has accepted and will be taking immediate action on all nine of the recommendations.

“A tough report offers a great opportunity – and this one in particular will help us continue to identify what work needs to be done to best prepare B.C. communities and families for a major earthquake," said Anton in statement released on Tuesday.

“We have accepted all nine of the auditor general’s recommendations; however, ensuring British Columbia is prepared for an emergency cannot be achieved in isolation. That’s why, earlier this month, we announced a consultation that will invite all our partners to work together on seismic preparedness, as well as a public education campaign to help ensure more British Columbians are prepared if the ‘big one’ hits.”

Report recommendations:

- The provincial government develop long-term goals for catastrophic earthquake preparedness, including the level of preparedness it expects EMBC to achieve in the next 5, 10 and 15 years.

- The provincial government ensures EMBC has the capacity necessary to address identified critical gaps and achieve government’s expected level of preparedness.

- EMBC develop a strategic plan to meet the province’s long-term goals. The plan should clearly demonstrate how EMBC will evaluate the effectiveness of its activities against its goals.

- EMBC identify, rank and prioritize completion of its own key plans and procedures to ensure it meets its mandate to prepare and respond to a catastrophic earthquake.

- EMBC regularly review its earthquake program to identify significant gaps and risks to a co-ordinated and integrated response, and develop actions to address them.

- EMBC regularly review and evaluate its stakeholders’ emergency plans and procedures to assess stakeholder readiness and capacity.

- EMBC conduct regular catastrophic earthquake exercises with its stakeholders to ensure it can deliver an effective, comprehensive and integrated government-wide response to a catastrophic earthquake.

- EMBC measure the effectiveness of its public preparedness initiatives at regular intervals.

- EMBC report annually to British Columbians on the state of its catastrophic earthquake preparedness. The report should include an assessment of the overall state of earthquake preparedness, risks and capacity, and describe the plans and achievements of the Inter-Agency Emergency Preparedness Council (IEPC).