Early earthquake warning system in the works for B.C.

By Ian Holmes
March 2, 2017 - 4:17pm

Map of where land and offshore early earthquake detection sensors are being installedOcean Networks Canada

Installation of earthquake detection sensor Ocean Networks Canada

NANAIMO — Being warned a huge earthquake is about to hit seems like something out of a movie - but scientists are setting up a system for B.C. that will do just that.

Ocean Networks Canada business analyst Teron Moore said their scientists are installing nearly 40 land-based quake detection sensors on Vancouver Island and 12 on the Pacific Ocean floor near the Cascadia subduction zone.

He said this project is following through on a three-year, $5 million contract with the BC government to have this system set up by March 2019.

“If it were to occur off the coast of British Columbia you might expect in a place like Nanaimo to get like 30, 40 seconds warning before that shaking hit,” Moore said.

He noted people living in a certain area would not receive a warning message in time if a quake's epicentre was beneath them.

“The further you are from that earthquake epicentre and the more sensors and the faster the communication, the more warning you'll get.”

He said the strategically placed sensors pick up P-Waves - the first motions from a quake in the earth's crust, which are typically non-destructive. He said while 40 seconds may not seem like a lot of warning for a potentially violent shaker, it is enough to make a huge difference for public safety.

“It certainly is enough time to stop (or) slow down trains or to stop elevators...or of course get people to drop, cover and hold on.”

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City of Nanaimo emergency program coordinator Karen Lindsay sees the addition of an early earthquake warning system in the province as a motivator to get people more prepared.

“This is an opportunity for everyone to educate themselves on the risk in the community,” Lindsay said. “But also to educate themselves and prepare their kits, so it's a layered approach. I look at this as one tool in a tool box of many things.”

Moore said early earthquake detection technology has been used in Japan for many years and has “saved countless lives.” He said Japan is a much more seismically active nation, while in B.C., this technology hasn't been been pursued until recently.

“We really have...a bit of an apathy when it comes to really making progress on this kind of technology, which certainly isn't easy to do and isn't inexpensive.”

Moore said it is it will be up to various levels of government to figure out how people will be warned about an incoming earthquake, but cell phones will likely be a lead tool.


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