Real-time illustration shows the location of small seismic monitoring devices around Greater Victoria. The equipment helps local seismologists keep track of changes in ground noise and vibrations. (Illustration raspberryshake.org)

Real-time illustration shows the location of small seismic monitoring devices around Greater Victoria. The equipment helps local seismologists keep track of changes in ground noise and vibrations. (Illustration raspberryshake.org)

Earthquake early warning research backs Great BC ShakeOut activities

Public encouraged to host socially distanced earthquake drills Oct. 15 or anytime

In an earthquake, a pre-shake warning of even a few seconds can make a huge difference.

An national earthquake early warning (EEW) system under development by Canadian scientists aims to provide enough advance notice to allow for potentially lifesaving actions to take place, says seismologist Alison Bird, EEW liaison and outreach officer with Natural Resources Canada in Victoria.

“Even with only a few seconds’ warning, much can be done to prepare for the strong shaking,” she says. “Automated systems can trigger protective actions, such as opening fire hall and ambulance bay doors to allow vehicles to get out, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, stopping traffic from proceeding onto bridges or into tunnels, stopping trains, moving elevators to the nearest floor and opening doors and other important functions.”

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The system will eventually send alerts – warnings of between “seconds to tens of seconds,” depending upon one’s proximity to the quake epicentre – via the National Public Alerting System, TV, radio, Internet and to compatible mobile devices where service is reliably fast enough.

The EEW is one of two major early warning systems with connections to Victoria.

Ocean Networks Canada, driven largely by research done at the University of Victoria, has its offshore earthquake monitoring equipment installed in the Pacific Ocean seabed and is in the midst of field testing its systems. Its focus is on warning the public of a megathrust earthquake (often referred to as “the big one”) along the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ), Bird says.

“The national EEW system is for all earthquakes in the region, including the CSZ megathrust; large “crustal earthquakes” within the North American Plate where we live, and “in-slab” earthquakes within the subducting Juan de Fuca plate, as it pushes beneath the North American Plate and into the mantle,” she explains. “We are working with ONC to find a way for the two systems to work hand-in-hand.”

The EEW system is slated to be operational in 2024.

Meanwhile, nearly 90,000 people are registered for B.C. ShakeOut activities, which can be carried out on any day, anywhere. For those who want to stage their own earthquake drill Oct. 15, register at shakeoutbc.ca. The site also hosts a list of resources, from COVID-safe drill tips to printable reminders about coming events.

Visit bit.ly/3loxSVi for a list of participating agencies and local governments, and click on the highlighted links to learn more about emergency preparedness in your community.

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