Canadian Underwriter

How B.C. adjusters are preparing for major earthquake

July 29, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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When the next huge earthquake hits British Columbia, some independent adjusting firms may temporarily re-locate offices inland, perhaps even as far east as Alberta.

Kernaghan Adjusters is aiming to be “up and running fairly quickly if we get into an infrastructure problem from an earthquake,” said Debbie Halstead, the independent adjusting firm’s Vancouver Island manager.

Halstead works out of Courtenay, near Comox.

On July 22, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale was recorded at about 4:33 am local time in the Pacific Ocean 443 kilometres west of Victoria.  No damage would normally be expected, said Earthquakes Canada.

But concern remains in the industry about the possibility of a much larger earthquake affecting the west coast, with experts saying it’s a matter of when — not if — it will occur.

“If we get hit with the big one on Vancouver Island, you can be sure that Vancouver proper is going to be in some trouble as well. So our plan of course is, as with a lot of the other (independent adjusting firms), to move inland into B.C. and set up emergency offices inland and (possibly) even further.”

Some adjusting firms could even move their offices to places like Calgary or into Edmonton, said Halstead.

“Our service to our clients is important. Our [computer] servers are not situated anywhere in earthquake zones, so we can be up and running fairly quickly if we get into an infrastructure problem from an earthquake.”

On June 23, 1946, a large earthquake struck west of Courtenay, The Province newspaper reported earlier. The effects were felt in Vancouver, when a 25-pound piece of masonry from the CN Rail building crashed to the sidewalk. Cyclists crossing Lions Gate Bridge said it swayed so much they thought it was going to collapse, The Province recounts.

In a 2013 report commissioned by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, AIR Worldwide modelled the effects of a Magnitude 9.0 quake at a depth of 11 km under the Pacific Ocean, 75 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The intent was to predict the impact of a seismic event similar to one that happened in 1700, if it were to occur now.

A similar event today could cut off access to Vancouver International Airport and cause frame houses in Victoria to move on their foundations if they are not bolted down, AIR Worldwide said in its 2013 study for IBC.

Halstead notes that on the west coast, earthquake preparedness programs include the Great British Columbia ShakeOut, scheduled the third week of every October.

“We do certainly try to drill into everybody the importance of emergency preparedness plans, especially on Vancouver Island.”

Residents, businesses and government agencies are encouraged to take part in a “Drop, cover and hold on” drill.

In the event of an earthquake, residents are advised to drop to the floor; take cover under a sturdy desk, table or other furniture; hold on to that piece of furniture and be prepared to move with it; and cover their head with their other arm.

AIR warned in its 2013 report that the west coast earthquake it modelled could cause loose panel walls to be thrown out from buildings in Victoria.

“Chimneys, towers and elevated tanks will likely twist and fall,” AIR said at the time. “Unreinforced masonry buildings will feel the worst effects, including widespread damage to chimneys and some partial collapses. The historic heritage and vintage buildings that give so much character to Victoria and Duncan for example, are particularly at risk.”

In addition, AIR observed, areas in Gordon Head could have major landslide damage while tsunami damage could be expected south of Esquimalt and near Sooke Harbour.

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