What should you do if the ground beneath you begins to shake violently?
The scenario isn't top of mind for most Canadians, but it's a real threat in some regions of the country.
"We need consumers to understand what their risk is … and then make an informed assessment on whether they're prepared. Not just through risk transfer – which is what insurance is – but in terms of protecting their families and just being able to get through an event," said Maz Moini, vice-president of commercial lines and reinsurance at Aviva Canada Inc.
Who is at risk?
British Columbia, particularly the southwestern part of the province, is at risk for a significant earthquake. According to Natural Resources Canada, there is a 30-per-cent chance that a strong earthquake will strike the West Coast in the next 50 years.
The other side of the country is also susceptible to strong quakes. The Charlevoix seismic zone, located about 100 kilometres downstream from Quebec City, is the most seismically active area in Eastern Canada. According to Natural Resources Canada, there is a 5-to-15-per-cent chance of a significant quake in the eastern region in the next 50 years.
I live in an earthquake-prone region. What should I do now?
- Store important documents – such as birth certificates, passports, wills, financial and insurance policies – in a waterproof, fire-resistant storage box.
- Prepare an emergency supply kit and store it an area that would ideally be easily accessible from outside your home.
- Develop a household emergency plan, which includes a meeting spot in case you are separated from family members.
- Make sure your home is as structurally prepared as possible to withstand an earthquake.
- Speak to your insurance representative to make sure you have adequate earthquake coverage.
What do I need in my emergency supply kit?
Most organizations – including the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the B.C. government – recommend having an emergency kit with enough supplies to survive on your own, without assistance, for at least 72 hours.
Your basic emergency supply kit should include:
- Water. You will need at least four litres a person per day for a minimum of three days. A supply of water-purification tablets is also recommended.
- Food. At least three days worth of non-perishable food items, plus a manual can opener.
- First aid kit.
- Shelter. You should have a plastic tarp, a small tent and an emergency blanket.
- Radio, ideally tuned to Environment Canada weather, and spare batteries.
- Flashlight and spare batteries.
- Toiletry items.
- Seasonal clothing and footwear.
How can I prepare my home for an earthquake?
As many engineers will tell you, there is no such thing as a building that is 100-per-cent earthquake-proof. However, there are several things you can do to minimize damage to your home caused by violent shaking.
Before an earthquake hits, you should:
- Know how to turn off the water and electricity (something you will have to do after an earthquake hits).
- Repair any loose roof shingles.
- Secure your water heater by tying it to studs or strapping it in place. You should also do this with heavy appliances, particularly those connected to gas or water lines.
- Secure top-heavy furniture and shelving units to walls to prevent them from falling over during a quake.
- Store heavy, breakable items on low shelves, ideally in closed-in cabinets.
- Put anti-skid pads under electronics and small appliances.
- Make sure mirrors, paintings, frames and other hanging objects are securely fastened and won’t fall off hooks.
- When it comes to arranging furniture in your home, make sure beds and chairs are located away from windows and chimneys.
Retrofitting can go a long way to make sure structures are more seismically prepared to withstand a powerful earthquake, said Kit Miyamoto, chief executive officer of Miyamoto International, a structural engineering company that focuses on earthquake risk assessment and reduction, as well as recovery and reconstruction after a quake hits.
"You have to identify physically weak spots and eliminate them. If you do that, it makes the building much more resilient and it can save asset value and save lives actually," Mr. Miyamoto said.
Bolting your house to the foundation can minimize structural damage in the event of an earthquake. The City of Vancouver also recommends considering hiring a professional engineer to evaluate your building and asking about ways to strengthen exterior features like porches, decks, carports and garage doors.
What do I do during an earthquake?
As soon as you feel the ground begin to shake, you should immediately take cover. "Drop, cover and hold on" is the international earthquake equivalent of "Stop, drop and roll."
First, you should drop down onto your hands and knees. Next, you need to cover your head and neck, and entire body if possible, under a sturdy piece of furniture. If there is no furniture in sight, get down near an interior wall or next to low furniture that won't fall on you. Finally, hold on to your shelter until the shaking stops.
If you are outside, move to an open space if you can and avoid buildings, power lines, trees and other potential hazards. If you are driving, pull over to the side of the road, stop and engage the emergency break. Avoid overpasses, bridges and power lines, and stay in the vehicle until the earthquake is over.
If you are on the West Coast and in a tsunami-risk area when an earthquake strikes, you should immediately move to higher ground. The provincial government recommends walking quickly, rather than driving, to avoid traffic and potential hazards.
What do I do after the shaking has stopped?
After an earthquake has stopped, it is important to remain calm but move with caution. Check your home for structural damage, and inspect gas, water and electrical lines. Shut off utilities if they are damaged.
If your house has been considerably damaged, you should leave immediately. Grab your emergency supply kit and listen for instructions from emergency officials over the radio.
Be aware that the earthquake may have caused other hazards, such as fires, landslides, highway damage and structural failures. Avoid waterfront areas because of a tsunami risk and be prepared to "drop, cover and hold on" in the event of an aftershock.