WHEN the Big One finally hits, North Shore residents - whether they know it or not - will be relying heavily on the community's emergency management office to co-ordinate everything from the search for survivors to the provision of temporary shelter.
But in recent years, the efforts of this low-profile nerve centre have run into an unexpected hitch: the death of the landline.
In a major crisis, whether it's an earthquake, a wildfire, a chlorine leak or other large-scale mishap, it will be up to the small staff of the North Shore Emergency Management Office to make sure the response is orderly and that the residents of North and West Vancouver know what to do.
One of the office's primary means of communication with ordinary citizens is an automated dialing system called Rapid Notify.
The service can phone tens of thousands of households in rapid succession, either in a specific neighbourhood or across the entire community, and disseminate instructions that are vital to ensure safety.
Until March 2011, the system drew its entire contact list from conventional phone books, but as more and more people have turned away from fixed phone lines in favour of unlisted cellphones, it has become clear the old listings are increasingly inadequate, with potentially thousands of residents falling outside their scope. Already, approximately 10 to 15 per cent of households in B.C. rely exclusively on cellphones, according to Telus.
"Youth are really driving this," said Renata Elias, NSEMO's emergency planning officer.
"I have children who are 21, 22 and I know they would never think of getting an apartment and getting a landline; they have their cellphone and that's it. . . . I think as they get older, there's going to be less and less requirement for landlines."
To combat the problem, NSEMO began adding cell numbers to the list last spring.
But with no cellular phone book to refer to, the office has had to rely on residents to volunteer that information, and so far the North Shore's cell users have been less than forthcoming.
Of the approximately 180,000 people who call North or West Vancouver home, just 3,100 have supplied a cell contact in the 10 months since the office started collecting them. That's slightly more than 1.5 per cent.
"The public needs to be educated on what this call is and what the purpose of it is," said Elias. "It's hard to get that message out."
The submission of a cellphone contact is helpful even to those who have a landline, she added, as it allows the office to get information to residents when they're out of the house.
In coming months, managers will be employing every means they can - including enlisting the help of local media - to get the word out, said Elias.
For more information or to list a cell number with the NSEMO, visit www.nsemo.org and click on the Rapid Notify icon.
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