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Earthquake early warning system closer to completion

Last Updated Oct 20, 2016 at 10:24 am PDT

FILE: A crab watches as the earthquake early warning system sensor is carefully inserted into the caisson. (Source:

The Great BC ShakeOut this morning

The alert can be from 30-second to over a minute ahead of the shaking

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Get ready to drop, cover and hold on this morning.

The annual Great British Columbia ShakeOut was at precisely 10:20am, part of a series of earthquake drills involving millions of people worldwide.

Close to 800,000 people are expected to take part across the province, along with schools, public agencies and private companies.

That includes Ocean Networks Canada and its partners, which are building an early-warning system off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The earthquake sensors are part of Neptune, a 900-kilometre telecommunication cable observatory on the ocean floor that delivers live data 24 hours a day.

“What we are adding to Neptune are sensors on the seafloor that detect the primary [seismic] wave generated by an earthquake,” says OCN CEO Dr. Kate Moran, based at the University of Victoria.

“We installed two of these sensors over the summer and there will eventually be eight offshore with a dense network on Vancouver Island as close as possible to the subduction fault where the earthquake will occur in the future.”

Moran says once the early warning system is fully operational — which is expected to happen in 2019 — it will deliver up to 90 seconds of warning time for Metro Vancouver ahead of a major earthquake.

“The alert can be from 30-second to over a minute ahead of the shaking. We partner with Emergency Management BC, Natural Resources Canada, the University of British Columbia and some industry players to pull together as many sensors as possible. If in the longer term with our US partners, a giant earthquake starts off the coast of Oregon, we could have minutes of alert time.”

Moran says the BC government leads the country and the entire West Coast of North America in funding this kind of technology and the early warning system will eventually be used to take protective and preventative measures.

“If we can work with an organization like TransLink, there can be an automatic alert for them to slow the trains down so they don’t derail,” she tells NEWS 1130.

An alert could also be used to stop bridge and tunnel traffic, bring elevators to the ground floor, automatically shut off gas lines and open bay doors at fire and ambulance halls before an earthquake damages buildings.

“It could also alert hospitals to stop delicate procedures that could hurt patients if they were conducted during ground shaking,” explains Moran.

An early warning would also allow teachers to direct students to pre-planned evacuation routes, get to a safe location and then drop, cover and hold on.

Today’s disaster drill is part of the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills worldwide, marked on October 20 at 10:20am.
Close to 55 million people will be participating globally.