Planning for Vancouver’s mega-quake


in Canada, Economics, Science

Everyone in Vancouver knows that one day, the ‘big one’ will come – a massive earthquake starting at the Cascadia subduction zone that runs between California and Vancouver Island. Back on January 26th, 1700, the zone experienced a ‘megaquake’ of magnitude 9.0 or more that swamped villages in Japan with the tsunami it created. It is estimated that the chances of a similar quake during the next 50 years are about one in three.

That is certainly something that should be borne in mind when deciding whether to construct dangerous infrastructure in the region. That includes nuclear power plants, but also oil refineries, natural gas infrastructure, chemical plants, and more.

It seems possible that lifelong awareness that a massive earthquake could occur might contribute a bit of apocalyptic psychology to the people of Vancouver. Even as a small child, I remembered being grateful to live in one of the parts of the city well above sea level. In elementary school, we each had little emergency preparedness baggies with food and water. They probably wouldn’t have done much good though: both my elementary school and high school had cinderblock walls with heavy concrete slabs for ceilings and floors. In a big earthquake, everyone inside would probably have been crushed.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mica Prazak March 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm

not to mention we live down the road from a giant dam…..

Milan March 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I wonder if Cleveland Dam would fail as the result of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake near Vancouver?

If so, the place you really wouldn’t want to be is the Park Royal / Marine Drive area.

alena March 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I helped put those “earthquake boxes” together with water, blankets, flashlights and first aid kits. The saddest part was that we had to write “comforting letters” for all the kids whose parents did not do so.

Matt March 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm

In a big earthquake, everyone inside would probably have been crushed.

Not if they were under their desks! That picture is from the ’85 Mexico City quake.

oleh April 1, 2011 at 7:50 am

“there is a one in three chance of a simlar size earthquake striking Vancouver in the next 50 years.”

That is one of the problems. That is both a relatively high risk and a low risk. Low enough to be ignored and high enough that it should not be ignored.

. April 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Geologists in America fear that the lack of serious shaking in recent times has lulled those living in seismically active parts of the country into believing that their local building codes and disaster preparations are adequate. A computer simulation, called “ShakeOut”, undertaken by the United States Geological Survey in 2008—involving over 5,000 emergency responders and 5.5m citizens—indicated that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake unleashed on the lower end of the San Andreas Fault, some 40 miles east of Los Angeles, would cause 1,800 deaths, $113 billion in damage and nearly $70 billion in business interruption.

Partly in response to ShakeOut, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Programme (set up by Congress in 1977 to mitigate the effects of earthquakes) commissioned a body of scientists in 2008 to draw up a 20-year action plan for reducing the hazard of earthquakes in America. The National Research Council (NRC), which was charged with developing the plan, reported last week on the 18 tasks it reckons are crucial if the country’s earthquake resilience is to be improved. Implementing the plan is expected to cost $6.8 billion over 20 years. That seems cheap. According to the California Emergency Management Agency, every dollar spent on preparation saves four dollars on reconstruction after a disaster.

. May 30, 2011 at 8:05 am

When a big quake meets a big city, older high-rises collapse: expert
Thursday, May 26, 2011
By Tom Spears, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Vancouver and its neighbours are due for a big earthquake, says one of Canada’s top experts, and while new buildings should mostly survive, a lot of older high-rises are in danger of collapse.

John Clague studies earthquakes, tsunamis and other hazards at Simon Fraser University, where he has a Canada Research Chair.

He told fellow geoscientists in Ottawa, where they are holding a convention, that their profession is able to limit the damage and loss of life when the “inevitable disaster” happens.

Canada has had natural disasters, “but not what I call catastrophes, for example a huge earthquake very close to Vancouver,” he said Thursday.

“We’ve dodged some bullets. We can’t expect that to continue. At some point in the future we will experience something close to a catastrophe, and the question is what can earth scientists bring to the plate to mitigate the damage of such an event?”

Two of Earth’s plates meet just west of Vancouver Island. One is sliding under the other, lifting the island and shoving it slowly closer to the mainland.

Seismologists have charted the slow buildup of tension that results. Frequent small slips reduce tension a little, but the overall buildup continues. The graph looks like an optimist’s view of the stock market, a trend steadily upward with a few small downticks along the way.

. August 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm

SEISMIC WARNING Megathrust quake danger looms on coast Fault line in colliding tectonic plates deeper than previously thought, researchers discover

MARK HUME VANCOUVER The fault line where tectonic plates are colliding in the Pacific Northwest is much deeper than previously thought, which could mean the Olympic Peninsula will be hit hard when a megathrust earthquake next occurs on the West Coast, a new study suggests.

A team of Canadian and U.S. scientists, led by Andrew Calvert, a professor in Earth Sciences at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, made the discovery by pouring through data collected by a research project known as SHIPS, for Seismic Hazards Investigations in Puget Sound, which since 1998 has been examining earthquake dangers in the region.

“What we have put forward in our paper is that beneath the Olympic Peninsula, in northwest Washington State, there’s a large volume of sedimentary rock that extends actually from the Olympic Mountains at surface . . . down to a depth of almost 40 kilometres. That large volume of rock actually sits above the fault, or close to the fault, between the subducting Juan de Fuca plate and the overriding North American continent,” said Prof. Calvert.

. August 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

‘The clock is ticking’: ‘Megathrust’ West coast earthquake could resemble Japan’s, studies say

Two separate geological studies suggest the earthquake hazard in the transboundary region of the Pacific Coast of North America — including southern British Columbia — is significantly greater than previously believed, with both teams of U.S. scientists urging heightened readiness for a future offshore “megathrust” event that could compare with the one that triggered Japan’s catastrophe last year.

In one study, a 13-year, comprehensive analysis of the Cascadia earthquake-prone zone between Vancouver Island and Northern California, a team of researchers led by Oregon State University earth scientist Chris Goldfinger concluded that the “clock is ticking” ahead of a potentially devastating earthquake in the region within the next 50 years.

In a 184-page report published this week by the U.S. Geological Survey, the team compiled a detailed record of earthquakes in the Cascadia region going back to 8,000 B.C.

. May 17, 2019 at 3:40 pm

A big earthquake near Vancouver is almost inevitable. Are we ready? – The Globe and Mail

“If, for example, a magnitude 7.3 quake hits close to Vancouver, the provincial emergency-response plan forecasts as many as 10,000 dead and more than 100,000 injured. In the City of Vancouver alone, 150 buildings would likely collapse and 4,000 would be so severely damaged they would need to be demolished. Central neighbourhoods, home to older buildings, could be cordoned off for months. Canada’s entire economy would feel the blow, including from the interruption of the half-billion-dollars of cargo that flows through Vancouver’s port each day

The odds of a really big one – a magnitude 9 event similar to the megathrust earthquake and tsunami near Japan in 2011 – was estimated by a B.C. auditor-general’s report at one-in-10 over the next half-century.”

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