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How Ottawa is trying to lower earthquake related property losses


December 7, 2020   by Greg Meckbach


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Natural Resources Canada is hoping to help insurers cut their loss costs with a yet-to-be released earthquake early warning system.

The warning system could provide seconds to tens of seconds of warning before a location is affected by strong shaking, Natural Resources Canada research scientist Michal Kolaj said Dec. 3 during a webinar hosted by Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc.

“The idea is, this may also cause a lower burden on insurance,” Kolaj said during his panel, New Perspectives on Earthquake Risk in Canada, part of the CatIQ Connect quarterly series of webinars. “There is still kind of ongoing work to understand what kind of businesses will have large reductions and what is the return on investment from the perspective of insurance rates and things of that effect.”

This is not the first year CatIQ Connect attendees have heard of this system.

Henry Seywerd, program manager for the earthquake early warning at Natural Resources Canada, said this past February that Natural Resources Canada aims to have its system operational around 2024.

Seywerd spoke Feb. 4, 2020, during CatIQ Connect at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. At that time, Seywerd described the geophysics behind earthquake warning technology. An earthquake produces two kinds of shaking. The first wave is a pressure wave, which does not cause a lot of damage and travels at about six kilometres a second. The second, slower wave, which travels at about half the speed of the P wave, is what causes most damage, Seywerd said this past February.

The most recent CatIQ Connect session was held virtually Dec. 3 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Certain regions of Canada, especially southwestern B.C. and eastern Quebec, have higher seismic risk, Kolaj said during the all-day CatIQ Connect webinar, titled New in Catastrophe Technology & Modelling.

“We do have regions, especially along the St. Lawrence Valley in Ontario, and west [of] Quebec, of moderate and elevated hazard,” said Kolaj. “Historically, we have had some large, significant quakes such as about a Magnitude 6 in the Montreal region in 1732, and a Magnitude 7 in the Charlevoix region in 1663.”

“Canada has a very long history of destructive earthquakes that are rare but they do happen,” added moderator John Schneider, secretary general of the Pavia, Italy-based Global Earthquake Model Foundation.

Canada is currently working on the sixth-generation seismic hazard model, speakers said Dec. 3 during the panel.

The idea behind that hazard model is to help develop an earthquake resilience standard in the 2020 National Model Building Code of Canada.

Kolaj said the model aims to answer several questions including:

  • Who and what are exposed to damaging earthquakes?
  • What are the likely impacts?

We have almost doubled our exposure in Canada to earthquake risk and hazard over the past 40 years, largely because we have increasingly dense urban settlements in areas exposed to these hazards, said Kolaj.

The next CatIQ quarterly talk is scheduled Feb 11, 2021.