Ocean Networks Canada’s earthquake early warning system could give locals valuable time to prepare for an earthquake

Funding bolsters early earthquake warning plans

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle figures “the last place you want to be is in the dentist chair when the earthquake hits.”

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle figures “the last place you want to be is in the dentist chair when the earthquake hits.”

He was front and centre when the province committed $5-million to Ocean Networks Canada to develop its earthquake early warning system in B.C. that would get someone out of that dreaded chair before a quake.

The early warning system would be valuable for Oak Bay and communities across the seismic region, said Cockle, attending the announcement in his role as president of the BC Earthquake Alliance.

“What we’re looking at here is an opportunity in the future to provide valuable seconds which will enable residents to to take appropriate actions to protect life and property,” he said. “As we move forward, what we do here will make people’s lives better here in Oak Bay and in the CRD and in the province.”

The program would enhance safety for residents in areas of seismic risk. ONC collects data from offshore and coastal strong motion sensors to link with networks of land based sensors from other agencies, including those owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resources Canada and the University of British Columbia.

“Eventually we will have all of the pieces put together that will help us all,” Cockle said.

Oak Bay is already a part of the land-based grid, with a seismometer at the Monterey Avenue fire hall.

“We register immediately with UBC and their systems and they’re providing the information back to us,” Cockle said. “We’re still working on the process to get us linked directly.”

That next step means, when an earthquake hits nearby, such as the one off Sidney late last year, a warning would light up at the fire hall.

“For the firehall here, the future is an automated system,” he said.

Current protocol has firefighters opening the doors and pulling vehicles from the hall as a first priority. An automated system could open those doors first. Other warnings could include the phone system lighting up before the quake hits.

“Those are the key things that help us,” Cockle said.

The funding will add more offshore strong motion sensors and help integrate them with land-based sensors for more robust collection and analysis of seismic activity for early detection and notification tools.

ONC plans to install three more P-wave sensors in the Cascadia Basin, Barkley Canyon and Clayoquot Slope regions and five more along the coast of northern Vancouver Island.