Are we prepared? Turkey earthquakes a reminder of the risk for Vancouver (VIDEO)

Feb 7 2023, 12:05 am

After disaster struck in Turkey in the form of a series of devastating earthquakes, are we prepared for the big one in Vancouver?

For decades, Vancouver residents have been warned that the “big one” could hit any moment, but are we as residents prepared, and perhaps a better question, are our governments prepared?

We’ve faced several climate-related emergencies in the region in previous years. If they’re the example we’re looking at, could we be on the road to devastation like we’ve never witnessed?

In recent years, questions began being raised about how prepared our government was for climate-related emergencies, particularly after events like the devastating heat dome in the summer of 2021, which resulted in hundreds of people losing their lives. As a result, suggestions arose that the BC government wasn’t prepared. More questions were raised this winter after snowfall completely crippled BC’s infrastructure, which left many wondering what would transpire if a big earthquake were to hit the region.

Tremors aren’t uncommon in BC, and in fact, BC had a 3.9-magnitude quake on Saturday before the devastating earthquakes in Turkey.

A few days ago, the BC Ministry of Emergency Management sent a media release about “large-scale emergency exercises” simulating an earthquake in the Lower Mainland. Unfortunately, while simulations are good in practice, they’ll never be able to replicate the damage BC might be in store for, like a damaged highway or collapsed building.

The simulation also only accounted for a 6.8-magnitude quake, not as powerful as the 7.8-magnitude quake that has left thousands dead in Turkey — or Turkiye as it is authentically spelled — and had catastrophic impacts on the country’s infrastructure. It’s also not as powerful as the M9 quake some experts have predicted could strike in this neck of the woods, for which there is a historical precedent, albeit a rare occurrence.

The BC government also has a response strategy that lays out scenarios involving magnitude 7.0 and 7.3 quakes in different regions.

The largest earthquake that has recently hit the region was magnitude-7.3 in 1946.

So, are we prepared?

In a statement to Daily Hive, the City of Vancouver spoke about its commitment to earthquake readiness. The statement suggests that Vancouver has made significant investments over the past decade to assess risk, upgrade infrastructure and develop emergency plans.

In 2019, Vancouver took part in a “Van Slam” exercise to test the City’s response capabilities. What the City learned from that exercise is being used as input for future work to prepare the region for a significant earthquake. The City also stated that it takes part in the yearly ShakeOut BC.

Seismic upgrades are being undertaken by the BC government in many areas, like schools and crucial infrastructure. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t gaps. For example, a report from the Metro Vancouver Regional District suggests that if a major earthquake hits, there could be leaks and bursts in the water transmission system.

The BC government has admitted that there could be gaps in the response.

Following a catastrophic event, there will be an immediate need for surge capacity to fill roles at all levels of the emergency management system,” a 2022 emergency preparedness report reads.

“Existing capacity within First Nations, local authorities, and provincial emergency management organizations will be insufficient to support anticipated response needs.”

Does that mean doomsday when a big earthquake hits? Not necessarily.

We caught up with John Clague at the Department of Earth Sciences at SFU, who didn’t sound too worried about the so-called “big one.”

While Clague thinks we could be better prepared, he also thinks we’re much more likely to get a smaller earthquake and that we deal with a different earthquake setup here than in Turkey. While we could see fatalities, injuries, and economic dislocation from an earthquake, he says the government has spent billions of dollars on being prepared.

Clague states that the trigger point of the big one would be west of Vancouver in and around the Pacific, meaning Vancouver Island would be hit harder. There is also the risk of a tsunami.

Clague adds that several factors were working against Turkey. For one, Turkey is a historic city with many very old buildings. According to him, it also happens to be in a significant earthquake hot spot, probably among the top 10 worst in the world.

He referenced the devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011 as a better comparison due to the similarity of Vancouver’s geography and building codes. That earthquake caused tens of billions in damage and 185 deaths.

Clague says it’s “impossible to prepare for a worst-case scenario,” a reminder that there is sometimes no answer to mother nature’s fury.

Are we prepared? Yes and no. The Turkey quakes should be a wake-up call that we can all do better to prepare for the big one. Your likely best course of action is to be prepared as a household and have an emergency plan in place in the event of a significant earthquake.

Resources to help you prepare

The City of Vancouver and the BC government have resources to help you be prepared for a significant earthquake.

While Vancouver doesn’t offer an earthquake kit, it has a website with some guidance on what you should include in your homemade one. In addition, some organizations in Vancouver do offer kits you can buy, but they aren’t cheap.

The BC government has similar guidance. While it doesn’t offer kits, it provides information about what to put in yours.

Do you have an emergency earthquake kit? Let us know in the comments for science.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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