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No significant progress has been made in last 17 years

Victoria: Auditor General Russ Jones’ latest report, Catastrophic Earthquake Preparedness, states that British Columbians are at significant risk if a catastrophic earthquake were to occur today.

The audit found that Emergency Management BC (EMBC), the organization tasked with preparing government’s response to such an event, is not adequately prepared for a catastrophic earthquake. The audit also found that neither the Province nor EMBC has made preparing for one a priority.
The report noted that over the last 17 years, EMBC has not made significant progress. “Successive governments have decided to allocate scarce public resources to meet more immediate pressing demands, rather than to adequately prepare the province for a catastrophic earthquake that may or may not occur,” explains Jones. 

The report also highlights the need for EMBC to report publically on its level of preparedness so British Columbians can understand the extent of their vulnerability and make informed decisions as to their own level of readiness.
“British Columbians need to take responsibility and prepare for a catastrophic earthquake to protect themselves and their families,” says Jones. Jones identified that preparing for such an event is a shared responsibility, and urges everyone to look at their own situation and ask themselves whether they are ready.

In BC, the majority of the population resides in an earthquake hazard area. Annually, a few thousand earthquakes occur in and adjacent to BC. According to experts, an earthquake capable of causing structural damage can be expected to occur somewhere in the province about once every 10 years.

The report says that catastrophic earthquake planning has not been made a priority by government or EMBC despite the increases in BC’s population, the near doubling of BC’s property values and knowledge of the devastating impact of recent earthquakes in Chile, Japan and New Zealand.
EMBC’s current operating budget for emergency activities is approximately the same as it was in 2006. In addition, EMBC staff is busy with daily emergencies such as floods and fires so catastrophic earthquake planning is done as a side-of-desk activity.
The audit identified that EMBC’s hazard, risk and vulnerability analysis is not sufficiently detailed or up-to-date and that EMBC’s plans and procedures do not consistently reflect best practices.

The report recommends government develop long-term goals for catastrophic earthquake preparedness, including the level of preparedness it expects EMBC to achieve in the next 5, 10 and 15 years. And fill the identified critical gaps and achieve government’s expected level of preparedness.
In a statement released Tuesday, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton stated, “A tough report offers a great opportunity – and this one in particular will help us continue to identify what work needs to be done to best prepare B.C. communities and families for a major earthquake.”

“We have accepted all nine of the Auditor General’s recommendations; however, ensuring British Columbia is prepared for an emergency cannot be achieved in isolation. That’s why, earlier this month, we announced a consultation that will invite all our partners to work together on seismic preparedness, as well as a public education campaign to help ensure more British Columbians are prepared if the ‘big one’ hits.”
Experts say that a mega-thrust earthquake (“the big one”) could occur offshore in BC when one piece of the earth’s crust (oceanic plate) is pushing beneath another (continental plate). Stress builds and eventually the two pieces slip rapidly, generating earthquakes as large as magnitude 9. This type of quake occurs, on average, every 500 to 600 years, but the intervals between events have been as short as short as 100 to 300 years. The last major mega thrust quake occurred in 1700 and was approximately a magnitude 9. Scientists have estimated that there is about a 12% chance of a similar magnitude quake in the next 50 years.

If a “Catastrophic” earthquake is to occur off the densely populated south coast of the province and be
followed by a tsunami, damages and losses could amount to nearly $75 billion. Experts have recently estimated a 12% probability of a
catastrophic earthquake
affecting BC in the next 50 years.

Data and graphic source: