My Experience Getting Under the Table during an Earthquake

Growing up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, we often hear of the big one, an earthquake so big that the island is simply suppose to sink. Now obviously this might be more hyperbole than fact, but the truth is that Vancouver Island is situated along a major fault line and that one day it is bound to face an earthquake that will register highly on the Richter Scale.

A earthquake hazard map for Vancouver Island
A earthquake hazard map for Vancouver Island (photo credit: The Times Colonist)

This is precisely the reason that we would have regular earthquake drills at school. And sometimes the entire community would participate in a mock earthquake drill, giving it the opportunity to put its emergency response system to the test.

At school, the Principal would simply yell ”earthquake” over the intercom and without much time to think we would scurry under our desks and count to 60. After that, the fire alarm would sound and we would evacuate the building in an orderly fashion so that we could meet at our designated marshalling point.

However, my first experience with an earthquake was not in British Columbia. It was on November 25, 1988, I was ten years old and had gone to live with my mother for a year in Bic, a small town of 2000 people located in the Province of Quebec. I was over at my friend Thomas’ house. We first heard a loud ”boom”, as if the generator on the hydro pole outside had simply exploded. The electricity shut-off and the floor and walls started to shake. I immediately recognized that it was an earthquake and just as quickly got under a table. Thomas did not get under the table with me, since having grown-up in Quebec he was not privy to earthquake drills at school and simply had no idea what was happening.

Referred to as the Saguenay earthquake, it registered a 5.9 magnitude on the Richter Scale and is one of the largest recorded earthquakes in eastern Canada and eastern North America during the 20th century (source: Wikipedia).

My second experience with an earthquake was not in British Columbia either. It was on June 23, 2010, I was 32 years old and working on the 10th floor of an office building in downtown Ottawa. I was also the Fire Marshal for this floor. This involved ensuring that everybody was safely evacuated during drills and real emergencies, and reporting to the Head Fire Marshal once this was done.

This time again there was a loud ”boom” and the electricity shut-off. Then the floor and walls started to shake. I realized that it was an earthquake and immediately got under my office desk while counting out loud to 60. Clearly the earthquake drills that we had done at school in my younger days had a great influence on my reaction, even if we were some twenty years later.

Once we had evacuated the building and I had reported to the Head Fire Marshal, I couldn’t help but notice a certain level of disorganization. People were not sure if they could return inside. Many folks in a natural hurry to evacuate the building had left their personal belongings behind and were unsure if they could enter the building to retrieve them. Some folks having experienced an earthquake for the first time seemed somewhat shocked.

Known as the Central Canada earthquake, it registered a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter Scale.

It was eventually decided that people would be allowed to return inside the building to quickly retrieve any personal belongings. Otherwise people were to go home for the afternoon, since as a safety precaution the building would remain closed.

Somehow I was handed a bullhorn in order to communicate this message to the crowd that was eagerly awaiting an update on the situation. Unbeknownst to me, a photojournalist snapped a photo of that precise moment.

Fire Marshal Jade Sambrook in action during the 2010 Central Canada earthquake
Fire Marshal Jade Sambrook in action during the 2010 Central Canada earthquake (Photo credit: Darren Brown/Ottawa Sun)

The following day as I was arriving at work I was handed a copy of the 24 Hours Daily newspaper. Amazingly that photo taken by the photojournalist had made the front page. This made me laugh, but more importantly, it brought back to mind the importance of my school Principal yelling ”earthquake” over the intercom.

Jade Sambrook on the front page of the 24 Hours Daily
Jade Sambrook on the front page of the 24 Hours Daily

For Jade Sambrook, getting under the table quickly during an earthquake is now a natural instinct. Hopefully schools in British Columbia, and particularly those on Vancouver Island are continuing to teach their students how to react when a ”boom” is heard, the power shuts off, and the floors and walls starts to shake.

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