Supporting seismic science: Early warning systems

Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria initiative, manages the world’s most advanced cabled ocean observatories off the west coast of British Columbia and in the Arctic for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories supply continuous power and Internet connectivity to a broad suite of subsea instruments and collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible.

The following BC Government announcement details new funding for ONC to further develop technology for an earthquake early warning system.


Government of British Columbia News Release

An investment of $5-million to Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) aims to increase the development and use of earthquake early warning systems in BC that could enhance life safety for British Columbians living in areas of the province with seismic risk.

The one-time project funding will add more offshore strong motion sensors and help integrate them with land-based sensors for more robust collection and analysis of seismic activity, with the aim of contributing to early detection and notification tools for the public.

“Investing in tools that help ensure British Columbia’s resilience in emergencies is of pinnacle importance to this government, as reflected by the investments made in the new budget. Contributing to an effective earthquake detection system is prudent, as every second of early warning can save lives,” says Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness.

“Preparedness is key to resilience and sparing lives with a few extra seconds warning that allow us to drop, cover and hold on will provide a critical tool. I urge British Columbians to personally invest and contribute to our resilience by ensuring they have the plans and supplies to survive a minimum of 72 hours after a damaging quake rocks us.”

Ocean Networks Canada currently collects data from offshore and coastal strong motion sensors that will link into networks of land based sensors from other agencies including those owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resources Canada and the University of British Columbia.

Today’s investment looks to bolster the integrated network of earthquake sensors, increase the reliability and effectiveness of the data and analysis that comes from them, feed it to a centralized source that in turn can immediately deliver early detection notifications prior to the arrival of the damaging waves of an earthquake.

"We’re thrilled to be working with Emergency Management BC to bring our world-leading ocean technology to save lives and reduce damages when an earthquake strikes,” says Kate Moran, president and CEO of ONC. “Making earthquake early warning a reality is rooted in Ocean Networks Canada’s vision to enhance life on Earth by providing knowledge and leadership that deliver solutions for science, industry and society."

Investment in earthquake early warning systems for our province is a key step in protecting British Columbians,” says Dave Cockle, Oak Bay fire chief and president of the BC Earthquake Alliance.

“The seconds or minutes of advance warning can allow people and systems to take appropriate actions to protect life and property. Even a few seconds can enable protective actions like the ability to ‘Drop, Cover and Hold On’, to turn off equipment, safely stop vehicles and transportation infrastructure, allow surgeons to stop delicate procedures and emergency responders can initiate emergency procedures, prepare and prioritize response.”

Quick facts:
•    Primary wave (P-wave) sensors detect the first movements from the earth’s crust when an earthquake occurs. These first non-damaging waves are followed by secondary waves (S-waves), which cause the majority of shaking. The ability to quickly detect the P-waves can provide seconds of advance warning before the arrival of the S-waves. The effectiveness of the detection tool depends on having enough sensors and reliable communication infrastructure to get accurate information out quickly, as well as the distance from the quake’s epicentre to the recipients of the warning. This funding helps provide more P-wave sensors and precise GPS receivers.
•    ONC will install three more P-wave sensors in the Cascadia Basin, Barkley Canyon and Clayoquot Slope regions and five more along the coast of northern Vancouver Island to help test and refine the earthquake early warning system they have developed. To help reduce the likelihood of issuing false notifications, a minimum of three sensors need to be triggered by a seismic event. This one-time funding will support the development of a more effective and reliable notification system by increasing the number of sensors that comprise the network.

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Media contacts

Virginia Keast (ONC Communications) at 250-853-3538

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Keywords: earthquake, Ocean Networks Canada

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