West Coast General Hospital, in Port Alberni, BC. NEWS FILE PHOTO

West Coast General Hospital’s parking lot is off-limits during tsunami evacuation

Parking lot needs to be clear for emergencies, says site director

If there is ever another tsunami warning in Port Alberni, officials at West Coast General Hospital are asking people not to use the hospital parking lot or its health square as evacuation sites. The lot needs to be kept clear for medical emergencies, says WCGH site director, Pam Rardon.

“One of the issues was the number of people that went to and around the hospital to get to higher ground,” she said (the hospital is above the City of Port Alberni’s tsunami inundation zone). “I don’t think they were overwhelming at all but a little worrisome if (the tsunami) had materialized and we had had to move people.

“It’s important as a community to keep the hospital entrances clear for emergency vehicles and for those who need emergency and medical care.”

Rardon said hospital staff “did very well with the tsunami warning. it was a good experience learning about what went well and what we can improve upon.

“It’s rare we get a chance to do a do-over. What a gift we’ve been given.”

Port Alberni Fire Chief Kelly Gilday said the evacuation went well from a fire department perspective. “Anytime you get a real-time event that you can use and look back on…you can improve,” he said. “We felt our members got out quickly and got the word out to the appropriate areas.

“We didn’t have a lot of problems with people not wanting to leave; we were looking after the industrial area and commercial area. There’s always one or two that want to come back in (to the evacuation zone) and watch…hopefully people will be a little smarter in the future because until you know what’s coming, you’re putting yourself at risk.

The 911 emergency system should also be left for emergencies, says E-comm spokesperson Jasmine Bradley. The 911 system saw a 300 percent increase in calls last Tuesday once the tsunami warning hit social media, radio and television stations.

“Our 911 lines began lighting up around 2 a.m., almost immediately after local communities started getting the word out,” she said. “Between 2 and 5 a.m. we received close to 200 calls. Normally we get 48 calls on a Tuesday in that same period.”

Most of the calls were from people looking for information on the tsunami warning: “We understand all of the questions we were getting were important questions that people want and need to know, but 911 is not the right source for that information.”

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