Alison Bird

Alison Bird

Nanaimo at high risk for damaging earthquake

NANAIMO - Seismologist warns the Island has one-in-10 chance of earthquake in next 50 years

The southern Vancouver Island region has about a one-in-three chance of being hit by a major earthquake within the next 50 years.

Alison Bird, earthquake seismologist for the Geological Survey of Canada, delivered that sobering news in her presentation about earthquakes and tsunamis at Beban Park Friday. Bird has spent much of her career visiting earthquake sites around the world and crunching data to get a rough idea of when the next “big one” could strike.

Bird’s talk coincided with a visit of the Shakezone, a mobile earthquake simulator that visited Nanaimo Friday and Saturday to give people experience what it’s like to live through an eight magnitude quake.

Bird discussed the science underlying seismic events and why the Island’s population needs to get prepared for a major tremor, but noted the public has become complacent by a lack of large quakes on the B.C. coast in recent decades. Beyond the high probability for a major damaging quake, there is also a one in 10 chance an extremely powerful quake, called a Cascadia Subduction Zone megathrust occur along the B.C.  and U.S. Pacific Northwest  coast roughly every 500 or 600 years, could strike within the next 50 years.

Bird gave advice on how to prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis. How to cope with them while they’re happening and afterward and she stressed the need to learn and practice how to quickly get to higher ground to avoid being caught by tsunami flooding following a quake.

“When you’re in an earthquake it’s a very stressful situation and your brain’s not functioning properly. It just does not work,” Bird said. “It resorts to what’s instinctive and your body’s telling you to run.”

The worst thing someone can do in an earthquake is run outside a building where debris is falling from above. By practicing the drop, cover and hold on response before an earthquake occurs, it can form muscle memory that will instinctively kick in, when a tremor really happens.

Emergency kits should sustain disaster victims for at least 72 hours – Bird’s designed hers to last two weeks – and contain, not just essentials, but even non-perishable comfort foods to help ease emotional post-disaster trauma.

One item Bird wants to see in everyone’s disaster preparedness kit is an N-95 dust mask to filter out dust from damaged buildings following a quake, which will likely contain asbestos and other hazardous compounds.

“This is building dust,” Bird said, referring to a slide image of a large cloud of dust rising from the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand, following an earthquake in 2011. “You do not want to be breathing in this stuff.”

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