James Bay & The Big One

March 2010 Cover Cartoon

By Sarah Pugh

Victorians have always known that they live in an earthquake zone, but the recent tragedy in Haiti has brought the looming earthquake threat to the forefront of many minds.  In some cases, the earthquake in Haiti has only underscored the importance of efforts already underway to ensure that when the Big One hits, this area will be ready.

On February 4th, the James Bay Community Project invited the media to examine its "nonstructural retrofit" to improve the survivability of an earthquake for the building's occupants. 

A non-structural retrofit was conducted by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), a non-profit research group operating out of Ontario.  The retrofit involved examining the building and its contents to determine how to make both safer.  For the JBCP, this meant noticing areas of risk - pictures on the walls and heavy objects in unsecured cupboards above waist level that could turn into flying projectiles in a large earthquake, large windows over the foyer, heavy filing cabinets, and some clutter in the halls that could block exit routes.

These hazards have been mitigated as much as possible.  Most cabinets now have locks on the doors, all filing cabinets and bookshelves have been bolted to studs in the walls, and a protective film has been placed over many of the windows so when they break in an earthquake, they won't shatter.  Wall hangings and pictures are secured to the wall so they can't come off, with eye hooks for larger items and ingeniously applied Velcro for smaller ones.

Along with these safety measures, JBCP Family Centre manager Penny Coates says that it's necessary to embed earthquake-safe behaviours in JBCP staff.  Locks on cupboards don't work if they're not fastened, and everyone needs to make a continual effort to keep clutter at a minimum and things (especially large and heavy things) put away safely.  For objects that aren't able to be secured - like the television on a rolling cart that must be mobile - those who use it need to ensure that it's always returned to a spot out of the way of areas where people normally congregate and out of any possible exit routes.

Coates also notes that most of the retrofitting that has been done to the JBCP can also be applied in homes.  Any shelving units, hot water heaters, free-standing cabinets or bookshelves can (and should) be bolted to walls.  Heavy objects (including canned food, dishes, pots and pans) should never be stored in the upper cabinets in a kitchen, or the kitchen cabinets should lock. Computers and other small appliances should be placed on rubber mats to prevent slippage.  All of these simple steps can add up to a home that is much safer in an earthquake. 

Structually, most of the buildings in James Bay are likely to fare well in even the strongest quake.  Timber-frame construction three stories or less is the most resilient in an earthquake, as long as it is securely bolted to the foundation.  Most buildings in James Bay fit that criteria (although older houses should be checked to ensure they're bolted to their foundations.)  The landscape in James Bay is also largely favourable.  There are a few hills and potential liquefaction zones in the area to magnify the quake, but much of James Bay consists of solid bedrock.  There are a few areas that would be dangerous, however - anywhere along the beaches south of Dallas Road would be at risk for landslides, for instance, and the concrete, narrow breakwater is obviously not an ideal place to be during a quake.

If you are inside a building during an earthquake, the best advice is still to drop, cover, and hold - meaning get under something sturdy hold on to it, because even heavy desks and tables move around during a quake.  Well-built timber-frame buildings are unlikely to collapse, but you can easily be injured by falling or flying objects, and getting under something protects you.   Don't let the circulating "Triangle of Safety" e-mail dissuade you - earthquake experts insist you will be safer under a solid piece of furniture than beside it as most earthquake-related injuries are caused by falling objects.

Of course, in our seaside area, the earthquake is just the beginning of the danger.  There is a moderate to high tsunami risk that would vary depending on where the quake occurred, with the worst-case scenario being a large underwater landslide in Juan de Fuca Strait, according to Alison Bird, a seismologist with the government of Canada.  She points out that because there are so many places where earthquakes can happen in this region, it's very difficult to accurately predict when and where a tsunami would occur.  Nevertheless, she says, if you feel very strong, sustained shaking for 3-4 minutes, when the shaking stops, head for the highest ground you can get to within 5 minutes.  (If a strong earthquake occurs off the west coast of the Island a tsunami warning will be issued, but Victoria residents will have several hours to prepare.)

It is also important to remember that a large earthquake is likely to disrupt emergency services, and prevent or slow services from the mainland reaching us.  For that reason, many Victoria earthquake experts advise storing food and water to cover more than the government-recommended 72 hour span.  Your earthquake kit should be stored somewhere easy to reach - for example, the garage or a shed, rather than the attic.

A large earthquake sometime in the next few centuries is almost guaranteed, but with adequate planning and preparation, James Bay and its residents may fare reasonably well.

Also in this Issue...

James Bay in the New Century

Here Comes the Munch Cart

James Bay Students Love to Write

Artist: Alexandrea Delos-Reyes

Non-Profits Hurt by HST

Life is A-Buzz at the Project

Birthdays and Smiley-Faced Yellow Balloons

More on James Bay "Quality of Life"

JBNA Planning for Our Future

Frail as Summer's Flower

Recipes by Conni Attwell:

Soda Bread

Potato Soup

Corned Beef and Cabbage

March Mystery House:
March 2010 Mystery House

The February Mystery House was 582 Marifield Avenue
February 2010 Mystery House