When Monsters Attack

Could Saskatchewan handle a Godzilla-category kaiju assault?

by Bryn Hadubiak

kaiju

Like that scene in Jurassic Park, Wascana Lake ripples as the ground beneath the Queen City resonates like a drum. Or maybe we’re in Saskatoon, where the City of Bridges’ namesakes shiver violently over the South Saskatchewan River as something massive rumbles ever-nearer.

Something is coming. Something the likes of which Saskatchewan has never seen: a 120-metre monster, a kaiju, towering almost 40 metres over our tallest buildings, here to destroy Regina and Saskatoon.

It’s here — the ‘why?’ no longer matters. Besides, this is a purely hypothetical situation.

The real question is: are we ready for it?

Call In The Army!

As the kaiju begins to rampage, it’s obvious we need firepower to take it down. But getting the military here to fight and help evacuate isn’t as easy as you’d think, say emergency managers for both cities.

“Pop culture really shows kind of an inaccurate view,” says Ray Unrau, director of emergency planning for the City of Saskatoon. “People are under the impression that all we have to do is push the red button, and this door will open and tanks and vehicles will start rolling out of nowhere.

“That’s not the case. What happens instead: the military are there to help, but it takes 12-18 hours before we actually see those resources on the ground.”

The military moves out only to handle a crisis in specific ways, depending on how much manpower and resources are needed, says Unrau.

“We have to say: ‘we need people who can evacuate a four-square-mile area of this part of the city,” he explains. “For the first little while, the city is on its own. We need to take care of ourselves.”

The first step in any disaster is to gather information, says Jay O’Connor, the manager of emergency management for the City of Regina.

“We call it ‘situational awareness’ in the industry,” he says.

You need an accurate overview of the situation in order to build a response plan to keep people safe and alive, explains O’Connor. “Where are we at? What’s going on? Based on that, what are our priorities? What are our available resources to deal with these priorities?” he says.

From there, emergency managers task groups with objectives around those key priorities, and provide them with whatever resources they can, says O’Connor.

Planning ahead for every contingency, especially for something as destructive as a monster attack, is too overwhelming, he says.

“Emergency management used to be: the bigger your emergency plan, the better you could sleep at night,” says O’Connor. “Instead of trying to conceive of every possible situation, [we look] at some of the commonalities that exist … and plan for those [while] creating a structure that can manage that.”

First responders, such as police, fire teams and paramedics, along with critical infrastructure Crowns such as SaskPower and SaskEnergy, act as eyes and ears in a crisis, and are trained to assess a situation and report back to emergency managers.

Unrau says they compile that information into an impact picture, to see if daily resources are going to work.

“What we do is combine the day-to-day, 911 approach with the idea that we need to understand how big this is, so we can pull the trigger on the next level of response,” he says. “We escalate as needed to the situation.”

“It becomes a shuffling game,” O’Connor agrees. “Shuffling around resources to cover up problems as they crop up.”

Managing The Monster

The problem, though? On-hand resources are thin. The situation calls for the military, but due to cutbacks and recentralization, they might not be able to do as much as people expect, says a confidential source who broke ranks to speak with us.

Although Saskatchewan has two military bases, one in Dundurn and the other in Moose Jaw, both are training facilities, says the source, who refers to himself as “Major Cad Patman,” a former member of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

Neither of them have the equipment needed to handle a kaiju, he says.

“Unless the Snowbirds are going to crash themselves into Godzilla, it’s not going to help much,” Patman explains. “Canada doesn’t have many weapons suitable for this.”

Anti-tank weapons are available, and the Royal Canadian Air Force can scramble Hornet fighters from Cold Lake, Alberta, but an infantry attack might work best, he says.

“You don’t want him to be able to fight, so you’ll want to get the PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) and the RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) to come in and throw everything they’ve got at him,” says Patman. “They could dig a really big trench, and set up some mines so he falls in them, but Canada doesn’t use landmines anymore because we signed the international treaty not to.”

Supplying, evacuating and controlling the civilian population, however, is something the military can do well to a certain extent, he says.

The DART can supply a portable hospital with staff and around 100 beds within 24 hours, and has a reverse osmosis system that can make around 190,000 litres of purified water from any source, says Patman.

The problem, though, is the Hercules planes used to bring them over and the current search and rescue aircraft are becoming harder to keep in service due to age, he says.

“The best thing we can do for an evacuation is to make sure the roads are open and direct traffic, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you let panicking people control traffic, it doesn’t work.”

One thing that the military could do to make up for some of these shortfalls is declare martial law to keep people out of dangerous areas, he says.

“When you ask an organization like the military to come in, it’s because you’re asking someone to control the chaos, and that’s what the military does.”

There’s a tendency to have a “conspiracy mind” when it comes to listening to the authorities, as if they’re out to get you, he says. Instead, the military is interested in keeping people alive.

Maintaining martial law can be tedious, he explains.

“Coming at three o’clock in the morning, banging on the doors and going ‘okay! We’re evacuating! Everybody move, move now! … It’s not fun,” says Patman. “It’s not the kind of thing where [you say] ‘Oh! I really hope I can do that!’, because a lot of it is routine and boring.”

Whither The Refugees?

But where do you put so many people? Compared to the much larger centres like Toronto or Vancouver, Regina and Saskatoon might be appetizer-sized for a kaiju. But even a larger city’s resources wouldn’t help them much, suggests O’Connor.

“No city across Canada is equipped to deal with a Godzilla-like event,” says O’Connor. “We’re prepared to deal with a tornado going through a portion of Regina … and even that will stretch our resources.

“But when it’s the whole city…” O’Connor’s voice trails off.

“I don’t want to say it’s going to be a free-for-all, but there’s going to be a little less government control, and the onus is going to be back on the citizen to do something.”

Evacuating a city is a complex problem; there are many layers to cover, and people would have to be spread throughout the province, says Unrau.

“The real challenge is going to be evacuating hospitals and seniors’ residences, because not only do we have the logistics required to move those people, but there’s the logistics required to land them somewhere,” he says.

“If you understand the health care system in Saskatchewan, we’re at capacity right now —  never mind trying to all of a sudden relocate say, a thousand people.”

The loss of any one of the hospitals from the kaiju’s rampage would be devastating, says Unrau.

“That’s my monster,” he says.

What Can Citizens Do?

Jarrod Callan, a resident of Regina, says his food storage is ample enough for his small family, and could possibly last over a month if rationed correctly.

“We do have an emergency preparedness kit,” says Callan. “I wish we had more water, but water’s very hard to store, obviously.”

Once the kaiju appears, Callan says he would go into a “survival-of-my-family mode,” where he’d stock up on supplies and listen to the news to figure out where he was going to go.

“I have a two-year-old son who would be of my utmost concern in keeping safe, whether it be being trampled by multiple people … in a panic themselves, bad traffic, etc. He would be my primary concern,” he says.

Patman says people should collect fresh water and food beforehand and try to be self-sufficient for 24 hours or until help can arrive.

“Do try to have a radio,” says Patman. “It’s one of things people don’t do anymore; they all have fancy devices but don’t have a plain old radio. So how’re [authorities] going to inform you of anything? CBC still broadcasts on a radio frequency — listen to a radio.”

Stress will affect everyone, and one of the big decisions you’ll have to make is whether you need help or can offer it, says Patman.

“Either way is good, but just make that decision. If you need help, accept the help people are giving you. If you say, ‘well, no, I don’t need help,’ then maybe you can help other people.

“Don’t be so self-centred,” he says.

In the end, even as a monster tears apart our homes and devours our parents, spouses, pets and friends, O’Connor says they hope people would take the chance to help out their neighbours.

“We’re good with that on the Prairies — people tend to pull together, support each other and help out.”

2014-05-15