$5 million to be spent on early warning earthquake sensors for B.C.

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Image: Oceans Networks Canada

The provincial government is providing $5 million to Ocean Networks Canada, the organization that aims to install eight more seismic sensors on the ocean floor just off the west coast of Vancouver Island – the most likely location for the epicentre of a destructive earthquake in British Columbia.

The network of sensors detects the primary wave (p-wave), the initial movements of the earth’s crust when an earthquake occurs. P-waves are generally non-damaging and are the precursor of the secondary waves (p-wave), the waves that cause damage.

In order for a warning to be triggered, at least three sensors must go off to reduce the likelihood of false alerts.

With integration into alert systems, the detection of the arrival of p-waves will eventually lead to the creation of a more comprehensive early-warning system in British Columbia – allowing up to a 90 second  for a major earthquake event.

Ocean Networks Canada, based at the University of Victoria, is also in the process of creating a software program that will alert infrastructure and critical service operators of an impending earthquake. A warning a few seconds ahead could be sufficient time to shut down gas lines, stop trains and surgeries, and alert students at schools and universities to take cover.

“This funding from the Province of British Columbia, along with support from key collaborators, is a welcome sign that earthquake early warning will soon become a reality,” said Kate Moran, President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada in a statement.

“It is an important part of ONC’s vision, to use our knowledge and leadership to deliver solutions for science, society and industry. This earthquake early warning system means that BC communities at risk from major earthquakes, will be be able to better prepare for, and build resilience to earthquakes.”

In 2015, 50 Catholic schools and two public schools in the Lower Mainland received an early-warning alert systems that can detect an earthquake. The pilot project, funded jointly by the Archdiocese and the provincial government, required the installation of p-wave sensors at each school, buried two metres deep in the soil.

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