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New early earthquake warnings could save lives and infrastructure in B.C., experts say

As people in B.C. practise for the "Big One" with the Great British Columbia ShakeOut on Thursday, new alerts are on the way that are meant to save lives in the event of a major earthquake.

Ocean Networks Canada system will give heads-up to major infrastructure partners before shaking begins

Schoolchildren hide under classroom desks during an earthquake drill

As people in B.C. practise for the "Big One" with the Great British Columbia ShakeOut on Thursday, new alerts are on the way that are meant to save lives in the event of a major earthquake.

The ShakeOut is a one-minute drill marked by people around the world, who practise how to "drop, cover and hold on" beginning at 10:19 a.m. local time. The drills are organized in workplaces, schools and people's homes.

The drill comes as the University of Victoria's Ocean Networks Canada gets set for the full launch of its early warning system, expected to happen before the end of the year.

The system uses sensors placed in the ocean off Vancouver Island and land-based sensors on the south coast that can detect the initial energy from an earthquake — something known as the primary wave, or P wave.

"It moves faster than the ground-shaking wave — the S wave," said Ocean Networks Canada CEO Kate Moran.

"We detect that primary wave and can then, using algorithms, send an alert to major population areas, to infrastructure operators, to say 'In 30 seconds, 60 seconds … you're going to actually have some ground shaking.'"

The warnings will go to major partners like health authorities, airports and energy suppliers, who have the ability to take action like pausing surgeries, diverting flights or turning off gas lines.

"They can … actually do things that basically save lives and save infrastructure," Moran said.

She explained that early warnings have made a major difference in Japan, significantly reducing the number of lives lost to major earthquakes.

'The reaction would be almost instantaneous'

TransLink has been tapped into the system since last year as a primary tester, but the warnings have yet to be necessary, according to Sany Zein, the general manager responsible for SkyTrain and WestCoast Express.

"We expect to get between 30 and 90 seconds of warning time," Zein told CBC.

"For us, the reaction would be almost instantaneous. So, within seconds, our control operators can put a system hold, they can issue the 'drop, hold and cover' caution to our staff, and then that gives them time that when the shaking happens, they at least have stabilized the system."

He added that customers would be alerted through announcements and communication with staff.

It won't be long before every resident of B.C. has direct access to similar alerts.

The federal government has said that next spring, a new national warning system will send alerts to people's phones before the strongest shaking arrives in communities.

Similar systems are already in place in Japan and the U.S.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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