Whistler talks disaster 

Earthquake and volcano experts lay out the risks

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - brace yourself Seismologist John Cassidy talks earthquake safety at the Whistler Confernce Centre on Oct. 19. 		                                         Photo By Joel Barde
  • PHOTO submitted
  • brace yourself Seismologist John Cassidy talks earthquake safety at the Whistler Confernce Centre on Oct. 19. Photo By Joel Barde

On Thursday, Oct. 19 Whistler Public Library visitors took part in a slightly different exercise. Rather than peruse bookshelves or surf the net, they took cover under tables.

The event, which took place at 10:19 a.m., is part of an annual province-wide drill meant to raise awareness about earthquake safety.

In 2016, 52.6 million people around the world registered for ShakeOut earthquake drills according to the organization's website.

Shortly after the event, one of Canada's leading seismologists gave an introductory presentation on earthquakes at the Whistler Conference Centre.

In an informative presentation, John Cassidy explained the various earthquakes that will someday hit B.C.

"We know that these earthquakes have happened and will happen. What we can't tell you is when they will take place," said Cassidy, whose calm voice stood in stark contrast to some of his slides.

The earth is like a "jigsaw puzzle," he said. Plate boundaries move apart, collide and slide under each other.

A point of major tension and focus is the Cascadia subduction zone, which runs off the west coast of Vancouver Island to northern California. It's where the ocean plate passes under the continental plate, causing massive amounts of tension.

A major earthquake, called a "megathrust" earthquake, will occur when there is a rupture between the plates. "You can only bend a stick for so long," explained Cassidy.

There have been 19 of these events in the past 10,000 years, he said. "These are the biggest ones."

Because Whistler has relatively new buildings, many of which are built with wood, Cassidy said he believed it would experience little damage.

"Everyone would feel it for a long time. But it wouldn't necessarily be really damaging," he said.

"Buildings are pretty modern in Whistler and they're wood. It's the best structure to be in for an earthquake.

"I wouldn't expect a lot of damage in Whistler from a megathrust impact."

Cassidy also encouraged the audience to keep a pair of shoes and a flashlight under their beds.

And he warned about the dangers of running out of a building in the event of an earthquake. "(The) biggest hazard is from glass and bricks that can injure you," he said.

An earthquake, he noted, could also set off landslides, making it dangerous to be on specific sections of the Sea to Sky Highway or close to a body of water.

"It's easy to forget about earthquakes, but it's important to have a plan and to know what to expect.

"There's the shaking, there's the landslides, and there are the aftershocks," he said.  

Cassidy noted that while B.C. has come a long way, we are still 1.5 to two years away from an early-alert system, putting us behind the west coast of the U.S. and well behind Japan, which already has sophisticated systems in place.

Following Cassidy's presentation, Melanie Kelman gave a presentation on volcano risks.

In an interview with Pique, Kelman noted that Mount Meager, Mount Cayley, and Mount Garibaldi are all in the same chain as Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980, killing over 50 people.

"The good thing about volcanoes, compared to a lot of hazards, is that they tend to give quite a long warning time, especially volcanoes that have not been active in decades to centuries," explained Kelman.

When magma works its way to the surface, it causes earthquakes.

"This is especially true of volcanoes that haven't erupted in a long time," she explained.

And that, in turn, will notify scientists that something is going on.

You can register for next year's Shakeout drill at at www.shakeoutbc.ca.


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