B.C.'s earthquake warning system still 2 years away
Alarms blared in Mexico City before this week’s devastating earthquake struck, potentially saving many lives, but an early warning system that could give B.C. residents a minute’s notice is still about two years from launch.
It will be 2019 before a system that uses sensors placed over the ocean floor – and then informs targeted areas of B.C. with direct-to-cellphone messages – is ready to go, said Ocean Networks Canada’s business analyst Teron Moore.
“We’ll be able to rapidly detect an earthquake from that area, analyze it in real time and then deliver information on that kind of an event to places like Victoria and Vancouver,” Moore said.
“You might get 60 to 90 seconds depending on where that earthquake epicenter is. But 60-90 seconds is enough time to take action, prevent damage and save lives,” he said.
Right now, every Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Vancouver has a device from the University of British Columbia that acts as both a sensor and a warning system, says Michael Donelson, the director of finance and administration.
“The fact that there is an alarm system in place prepares people to brace for an earthquake,” he said.
It costs between $15,000 and $25,000 to install the UBC system, and about $660 each year to maintain them for each of the 49 schools and four parishes that have the system, Donelson said.
There are also nine public schools involved in a pilot project with UBC’s technology: South Delta Secondary, Ecole Phoenix Middle in Campbell River, Henderson Elementary in Powell River, Wellington Secondary in Nanaimo, Fraser River Middle School in New Westminster, and four schools in Abbotsford: Matsqui Elementary, Aberdeen Elementary, Barrowtown Elementary and Yale Secondary.
A Ministry of Education official told CTV News that the primary focus is on mitigating schools with a high risk of damage in an earthquake.
But that work is less than half finished: 165 schools have been completed, but 181 have yet to be finished, according to the most recent published report. Of those, 155 are just in “business case development stage,” meaning construction hasn’t started.
There’s also a private company with working sensors: that’s Weir-Jones Engineering, which has working warning system in the George Massey Tunnel and in the B.C. Legislature.
That system actually detected the recent 7.1 magnitude quake in Mexico, said Anton Zaicenco. If the earthquake had been a threat to local infrastructure, the system would shut the tunnel to prevent anyone from being trapped inside.
“The response is triggered automatically. There’s no human intervention,” Ziacenco said.