Tsunami fears sent many coastal BC residents to higher ground this week, as a powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska. While the alert was called off and the unsettling wave of concern has dissipated, the event has left many BC homeowners near saltwater waterways wondering; is the threat real, and if so, is there more that can be done to keep one’s household safe?
For starters, yes, the threat is real. Approximately 75 kilometers underneath Vancouver, there is a massive Pacific plate slowly making its way eastward. While its pace is slow, it is a steady one, moving towards us by a rate of six to seven centimetres a year. The chance of a large scale earthquake along our coast is considered a near certainty by many experts, and one of the unfortunate side effects of a waterborne earthquake is a tsunami.
It is true that Greater Vancouver is somewhat sheltered from a Pacific Ocean tsunami, with Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula in its path, but we remain vulnerable to localized tsunamis caused by Straight of Georgia earthquakes, and even underwater landslides in the Fraser River delta. The stretch of mainland from White Rock near the BC/Washington border to Echo Bay (far north) falls under the Tsunami Notification Zone E for British Columbia. Yes indeed, you as a Vancouver/BC coast homeowner should take the threat seriously, no matter which zone you reside within.
So now that you know the threat is real, let’s dive into what you need to know to protect your home from a tsunami.
4 Steps to Protecting Your Coastal BC Home from a Tsunami
1. Follow the Flood Preparedness Plan
Tsunamis send large amounts of water crashing onto the coastline, resulting in floods in many instances. Therefore, at the bare minimum, the same precautions you would take to protect your home from floods applies here.
For one, assess your flood risk (and tsunami susceptibility) by confirming the flood level of your property, referencing the floodplain maps regarding your region, and by monitoring BC’s flood warnings and advisories. In addition, elevate all high-risk items, including wiring, electronics, switches, sockets, circuit breakers, backup generators, and A/C units above the flood level. If you live in a high-risk area, consider altering the landscape to add swales (trench-like depressions) and to increase the gradient surrounding your property. Go through Park Insurance’s four step household flood preparedness plan in great detail to make sure you’re fully prepared for a potential flood.
It is also important to note that coverage for flood damage from sources such as heavy rains, spring run-off and overflow from freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers, is now available in Canada. If you have not researched this new coverage option, now is a great time to do so. However, most companies do not provide coverage for tsunami damage, making preventative steps even more essential. An experienced insurance broker can help you navigate your insurance options to ensure that you have the best coverage available.
2. Bring At-Risk Items Indoors
The force of tsunami floods can send items from your lawn and property crashing against the exterior of your home. Impact can result in anything from small surface damage to smashed windows or much worse. When especially harsh weather is anticipated be sure to tie-down/secure or store at-risk items in the garage, sturdy shed, or basement until the threat has passed. Objects of concern include patio furniture, outdoor toys (kids slides, swings, etc.), BBQs, recreational gear (bikes, etc.), and more. Simply walk around your property today to identify anything that can be moved by force and put a plan in place so that it can be quickly tucked away for safekeeping when nature calls.
3. Retrofitting Your Property
This is more of a big picture solution, but an investment that may be well worth it if you reside in one of BC’s high-risk tsunami zones. Elevating your house, while reinforcing the connections between your foundation, walls, and roof will have a positive impact on your home’s ability to withstand the force of tsunami waters, in addition to strong winds and earthquakes that often accompany (or cause) the natural disaster. You may also consider building a safe room on your property, using insulated concrete forms (ICF). ICF which gained notoriety during the floods of Hurricane Katrina, is known to withstand forceful water intrusion, and can be constructed very quickly. In addition, install storm shutters on all windows, and reseal all trim surrounding windows and doors, especially for those on the lower levels of your home.
The retrofitting/renovation measures above will never be in vain, as it’s better to be safe than sorry. At the very least, you may significantly increase the resale value of your coastal BC home.
4. Leave Your Home
We’d be remiss to not conclude with a note to state that the most important part of protecting your household, is to protect its occupants. A tsunami alert should be taken the same way as a forest fire evacuation alert. Do not attempt to wait it out. Instead, close your window shutters and doors and head for the hills, literally. The higher the elevation, the better. Coastal communities on Vancouver Island have tsunami evacuation areas, but for the Greater Vancouver mainland you may need to make note of your own, while avoiding local disaster response routes which are pre-identified road, rail, and marine transportation routes that will need to be cleared for response to a tsunami. Build a household emergency kit (today) to bring with you, and keep an ever watchful eye on the local news.
In the end, there is only so much that can be done to protect your home from all of the destruction that a tsunami can bring. However, taking some practical steps today may lessen the impact.
Contact Park Insurance today to make sure you understand your coverage options before the next wave of concern laps our vulnerable shorelines.