Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are expected to seek cover for the Great Shakeout, a massive emergency drill designed to remind people they are at risk – and it's not a small risk – of experiencing a serious earthquake in their lifetime.
B.C. organizers say 750,000 people in the province have registered for the event, which will see participants drop to the ground at 10:15 a.m. local time, take cover by getting under a table or desk and hold on for about 60 to 90 seconds.
The first Great Southern California Shakeout was held in 2008, and it has since been staged in the United States and in places as far away as Japan and New Zealand. The Great Shakeout website says nearly 22 million people have registered to participate worldwide, most in the United States.
British Columbia launched its first drill in 2011 and Quebec has also joined in. Alison Bird, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada, says some groups in Ontario will also be doing the drill, but it isn't provincewide.
Ms. Bird says people living in Victoria have a one-in-three chance of experiencing a damaging earthquake over the next 50 years.
For Vancouver, there's a one-in-five chance. The danger is lower in the B.C. Interior, but Ms. Bird cautions "there's nowhere that has zero hazard for earthquakes."
Ms. Bird is urging Canadians to take steps to prepare for an earthquake – not just in southwestern B.C. where there's a high risk – but across the country. There are approximately 4,000 earthquakes a year in Western Canada and about another 2,000 in the east.
"So it's a very active country for earthquakes. … we really have to try to get people to recognize that that's the case."
Over the centuries, earthquakes in Canada have claimed at least 30 lives, with most of them victims of a tsunami that hit Newfoundland in 1929.
People living on Moresby Island, off the B.C. mainland, have been coping with their share of earthquakes over the years.
Bill Beldessi, the director of Moresby Island regional district, remembers the 2012 quake in the Haida Gwaii region that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.
"It was probably one of the worst one since I've lived here," Mr. Beldessi, 66, said in an interview from Sandspit, B.C.
"I was in bed and I noticed the light fixtures started making noises and a few things dropped off the wall and then a couple of aftershocks happened within five minutes."
Mr. Beldessi says everyone headed for higher ground.
That threat of massive tidal waves also prompted the community to pull together and set up an emergency centre.
"That's what we're doing right now," he said. "We have a tsunami centre up in the hills and it's fully stocked.
"As far as the big one, who knows when it's going to come – we don't lay awake worrying about it.
"We constantly have earth tremors here so it's not a big deal when we get something around three-and-a half or [magnitude] four. It's normal."
Ms. Bird stresses the worst thing a person can do is to run through a building when a quake hits.
"When you're in a stressful situation, your brain is not functioning properly, so your body wants to do the instinctive thing, which is to run," she said, adding that the most dangerous place to be is just around the outside of a building.
Ms. Bird says people need to be taught to drop, find cover and hold on if an earthquake hits.
"It's really important to create that muscle memory so that you do the right thing in an earthquake," she said.
With files from staff