VANCOUVER - If a major earthquake or other natural disaster were to hit the Lower Mainland, the University of British Columbia says it's ready.

The university's main campus is isolated from the rest of Vancouver geographically and because it lies outside the City of Vancouver's jurisdiction. This means the university has to make sure it has its own emergency response operations plan in place. 

"There's a range of unique considerations UBC has to account for when planning how we respond to emergencies on campus," said Danny Smutylo, director of emergency management at UBC Vancouver in a news release.

"For example, we aren't a municipality but we manage a majority of our own municipal infrastructure, such as waste management, energy generation and distribution, community planning, building inspection services and water services. There's a lot of opportunity to create our own processes and procedures based on the systems we control."

First of all, in the event of a major emergency, the university would send out important notifications in blanket messages. This can be done through UBC Alert, a system that sends out text messages in coordination with messages put on UBC's website, Twitter and on digital signs across campus.

The university is also developing an app to activate its specialized teams and provide updates.

Those specialized teams would be responsible for caring for wounded people, distributing food and blankets and deploying resources to centralized locations. 

Of course what the emergency is will depend on how the university responds.

"If it's an isolated or local incident, for example, UBC can access resources from outside—RCMP, fire services, ambulance," Smutylo said.

"If it's a regional event, however, like an earthquake, UBC will operate independently until regional or provincial resources can be safely deployed. That's why we're zeroed in on mass care and infrastructure. 

"If students can't return to their residence rooms or members of the community need food, where do they go? Our goal is to guarantee they have clean water to drink, food to eat, beds to sleep on and basic health and social supports."

This also means the university has had to make plans to handle the long-term effects of an emergency. 

"While we need to have the resources and systems in place for emergency deployment, we also need to have the resources and systems in place to maintain our equipment so we are prepared for however long a disaster lasts," Smutylo said.

In other words, those different emergency support teams are responsible for specific aspects of UBC's response. For example, the infrastructure and utilities team's responsibility is making sure campus buildings are safe and that there's potable water and sanitary services available. Another group – the mass care team – would be tasked with ensuring emergency infrastructure including food, cots and blankets are all made available. 

"The people in the working groups will also be on-site when an emergency happens, tasked with executing the plans they are creating in these groups," Smutylo said. 

"We are very focused on optimizing as much as possible—having the right people in the right places, and providing them with the resources they need to make sure our infrastructure is safe and systems and people are resilient."

But even before an emergency situation hits, Smutylo says advanced planning can help the university reduce damage.

"Responding is obviously crucial, but mitigating damage through prevention and planning is also key. It’s the foundation everything is built on," Smutylo said. 

"With climate change altering the frequency, severity and size of natural disasters, we need to be smarter and more agile in our capacity. The more knowledge we have, the better prepared we are to meet any eventuality—it's the goal of our program, and we take it very seriously."