Earthquake November 17, 2009 7:31 PST

A magnitude 6.6 earthquake occurred at 7:30 a.m. PST near the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands.  This earthquake was felt across the Queen Charlotte/Haida Gwaii region and throughout the North Coast.  Although the earthquake was felt by many Kitimat Residents, there were no reports of damage and no warnings were issued.  Read more below about local earthquake and tsunami risk and what to do if you detect a quake event.

Immediately after the quake, the Provincial Emergency Program began to receive calls from people wanting to know if there would be a tsunami, and reporting school closures and beach evacuations.  There was even a call from Prince George.

This event is a reminder to us that we must be prepared for an earthquake, and be able to react appropriately should one occur.  Your local emergency program is your key source of information for all things relating to emergency management.  We hope this information is of use to you in your planning and response: we would like to ensure that people are making the best decisions with the most accurate information available.

The Queen Charlotte Fault
From northern Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands, the oceanic Pacific plate is sliding to the northwest at about 6 cm/year relative to North America.  The boundary between these two plates is the Queen Charlotte fault.  Canada's largest recorded earthquake--magnitude 8.1--occurred along this fault on August 22, 1949.  Given the length of the Queen Charlotte fault, this is likely the largest earthquake that is likely to be experienced in this region.

The Queen Charlotte fault is a transform fault, where two of the earth's plates are moving horizontally relative to each other.  Friction will not allow these plates to simply glide past each other.  Rather, stress builds up in both plates until it exceeds the strain threshold of rocks on either side of the fault, then accumulated potential energy is released as strain.  Energy expended by instantaneous strain release is the cause of earthquakes, a common phenomenon along transform boundaries such as the Queen Charlotte fault.

A tsunami is a series of ocean waves caused by a rapid, large-scale disturbance of sea water.  Tsunami can be caused by submarine volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, and major earthquakes occurring beneath the seabed which result in large vertical movements.  Transform faults, such as the Queen Charlotte fault, have horizontal movement, not large vertical movement.  The Queen Charlotte fault is not tsunamigenic, meaning it will not generate a tsunami.  Should a submarine landslide occur due to an earthquake along this fault, however, there is potential for localized tsunami activity.

What to do if you feel an earthquake?

  • If you are indoors: DROP, COVER and HOLD
  • Stay inside
  • Drop under heavy or solid furniture such as a table, desk or bed
  • Cover your head and torso to prevent being hit by falling objects
  • Hold onto the object that you are under so that you remain covered
  • If you can't get under something strong, or if you are in a hallway, flatten yourself or crouch against an interior wall
  • Stay away from windows and shelves with heavy objects
  • If you are in a wheelchair, lock the wheels and protect the back of your head and neck

If you are outdoors:

  • Stay outside 
  • Go to an open area away from buildings 
  • If you are in a crowded public place, take cover where you won't be trampled

If you are in a vehicle:

  • Pull over to a safe place where you will not block the road. Keep road clear for rescue and emergency vehicles 
  • Avoid bridges, overpasses, underpasses, buildings or anything that could collapse 
  • Stop the car and stay inside 
  • Listen to your car radio for instructions from emergency officials 
  • Do not attempt to get out of your car if downed power lines are draped over or  touching your vehicle. Wait to be rescued.
  • If you are on a bus, stay in your seat until the bus stops.  Take cover in a protected place.  If you can't take cover, sit in a crouched position and protect your head from falling debris.

AVOID the following in an earthquake:

  • Doorways.  Doors may slam shut and cause injuries 
  • Windows, bookcases, tall furniture and light fixtures. You could be hurt by shattered glass or heavy objects
  • Elevators.  If you are in an elevator during an earthquake, hit the button for every floor and get out as soon as you can
  • Downed power lines.  Stay at least 10 metres away to avoid injury 
  • Coastline.  Earthquakes can trigger large ocean waves called tsunami

If you live, work or play near the ocean stay alert for the early warning signs of a tsunami:

  • An earthquake that lasts more than one minute and shakes the ground so much  that you cannot stand up 
  • Rapid and unexpected recession of sea water below the expected low tide

A tsunami may occur with very little warning.  If a tsunami hits or is predicted:

  • Do not go near the shore to watch for tsunami. If you can see a tsunami approaching, you are too close to escape 
  • Should a tsunami occur and you cannot get to higher ground, stay inside where you are protected from the water.  The best place to be is on the landward-side of the building as far as possible from the window 
  • Tsunami may occur in multiple waves that are just minutes apart.  Waves may also be as much as one hour apart 
  • Monitor tsunami progress and listen for warnings or instructions from local officials. If you are safe when the first wave hits, stay put until authorities declare all is safe 
  • After a tsunami hits, you may encounter flood waters. Flood water can be dangerous to walk or drive through. Before driving anywhere, listen carefully to the rescue officials who are coordinating evacuation

Provincial Emergency Notification System (PENS)
When the Provincial Emergency Program receives an earthquake notification, available quake data is reviewed to determine if BC coastal areas are threatened.  The personnel involved in making this decision include: emergency management staff from the provincial Emergency Coordination Centre; technical and scientific staff from the Canadian Hydrographic Service, federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans; and/or earthquake seismologists from the Pacific Geoscience Centre and Natural Resources Canada.  If there is a threat, this information is sent out to local government emergency officials through the provincial emergency notification system (PENS).  This notification system speeds initial information to the places it needs to be: to local authorities, and to news media who can get information out quickly to the public.  The PENS is not initiated if no tsunami threat exists.

PENS is a very useful tool when a distant earthquake generates a tsunami.  In the event of a  local earthquake we will not have enough time to implement PENS to warn people about a tsunami.  Local earthquakes must themselves serve as a tsunami warning, and severity is the most reliable indicator--the earthquake must last for more than one minute and the shaking must be so severe that you cannot stand up.  If shaking is less severe, there is low tsunami risk.

Unfortunately, there is no way to provide a warning for submarine landslide-generated tsunami.  This type of tsunami may be associated with a small earthquake or occur without an earthquake, and are localized to the site of the landslide. Your emergency program must, in the event of a submarine landslide-generated tsunami, be prepared to deal with the impact as opposed to the event.

There is a wealth of resource material on the web to assist you in planning for, and responding to, an earthquake and/or a tsunami. A selected list of sites is provided below:

Please contact the Kitimat Emergency Program Coordinator at 250-632-8945 to discuss information on the websites shown or for other information related to emergency preparedness.