UVic shows off earthquake warning system

Residents participate in annual ShakeOut drill in record numbers

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle laments one thing about an earthquake early warning system demonstration last week.

For a full minute media watched an earthquake simulation.

No one stopped.

No one dropped.

No one held on.

They did however, get the message: Seconds of warning offer life-saving opportunities when an earthquake strikes.

“This is what the future of earthquake warning looks like,” said Cockle, also president of BC Earthquake Alliance.

“This is a great piece of technology that we at ShakeOut BC support fully. We’re proud to partner through the Early Earthquake Warning page within our website so we can keep abreast of the newest technology and information so all of our residents are fully prepared to make good decisions.”

While there’s no earthquake warning in place, “there is progress being made,” said Teron Moore, business analyst with Ocean Networks Canada.

More than 3,000 earthquakes occur in BC every year. There’s a one-in-10 chance for a destructive megathrust earthquake in BC within the next 50 years.

“While most of these earthquakes are not felt by humans, they are recorded by seismic instruments across the province,” Moore said.

Using a countdown timer and video, Moore demonstrated how the earthquake warning technology works during a simulated magnitude 9 megathrust earthquake. In this case, the data transmitted to an earthquake alarm developed by UVic electrical engineering students.

ONC’s Web-enabled Awareness Research Network – a geohazard-detection research software platform that co-ordinates information from sensors on sea and land –  detects the first felt wave in an earthquake.

It estimates the location and magnitude of the quake and predicts ground shaking, allowing alerts to go out to the affected area before the ground shakes.

“ONC is the only organization in Canada that has earthquake sensors offshore,” said Adrian Round, ONC’s director of observatory operations and a director of UVic’s Emergency Operations Centre.

“ONC provides the sensor data to help make decisions, when seconds count,” adds Round. “But effective earthquake early warning requires a huge collaborative effort, involving governments, science, industry and the will of the public.”

The extra seconds offer time to stop traffic, pause elevators, shut off gas lines, open bay doors at fire and ambulance halls, stop surgeries and offer added time to “drop, cover and hold on.”

That skill was practiced in record numbers the next day during the annual province-wide earthquake drill.

“Since launching the Great British Columbia ShakeOut in 2011, we’ve seen participation jump from 470,000 to a new record of 785,000 in 2015,” Cockle said.

“I think that reflects an increased understanding of the earthquake risk in B.C. and the need to be prepared. We’re on our way to creating a culture of preparedness and making British Columbia a more resilient province.”

Their online platform shakeoutbc.ca also offers resources and information for residents to be prepared all year.

Oak Bay Emergency Prep also offers a preparedness information session Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Windsor Park Pavilion, 2451 Windsor Rd. Visit oakbayemergency.com for more information.