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12 Jan 16 21:08

“It’s not that bad," or “it’s not my responsibility.”

There’s a reason I started this blog with those statements. If someone said those things to me - regardless of the circumstances - I’d say they have their head in the sand and prefer not to face reality.

That’s precisely the sentiment - spoken and unspoken - many have towards earthquakes. Otherwise, why would only 4% of residential dwellings in Montreal and 60% of dwellings in Vancouver be insured against earthquake? It stems from a feeling people have that “the big one” won’t happen even though they live in an active seismic zone, or if it does, the government will pay them to rebuild.

In the last few days of 2015 a magnitude 4.7 quake struck about 20 kilometres north of Victoria and while thankfully no one was hurt and there was no damage it got me thinking about Canada’s property insurance gap - a difference of about $2.1 billion between insured losses and economic losses, assuming an average catastrophe loss year.

Putting that in the context of an earthquake, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) estimates the overall costs from a 9.0-magnitude quake in British Columbia at nearly $75 billion. A 7.1-magnitude quake in the Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa corridor would cause an estimated $61 billion in economic losses. Clearly, insurance coverage in-force would be inadequate to foot that bill.

But insurance is only part of the issue. Rather than point fingers (or throw our hands up in the air) we need to recommit ourselves to what I call “communal resilience.” I recently participated in 6th Annual National Roundtable on Disaster Risk Reduction in Calgary, where officials from emergency management, public safety, research and finance discussed how to construct a “whole of society” approach to managing risks and consequences of disasters.

This approach is based on three pillars of resilience: physical, social and economic. The stakeholders come from local and national government as well as the private sector and each must play its role in upholding those pillars:

- Physical: enacting risk mitigation strategies, building codes and investing in infrastructure

- Social: ensuring that vulnerable populations are appropriately cared for; also an acculturation of sorts, where citizens take responsibility for and invest in the soundness of their property and personal safety

- Economic, because where our physical resilience ends, our financial resilience must begin

Canadians are proud of their natural resources and I share that love of and sense of stewardship for not only this country’s natural beauty but its utility to society. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore our man-made, physical assets. They too are precious. And as a nation we must take the threat of earthquakes seriously in order to protect those assets: the places where we work, where our children attend school, where we shop and enjoy cultural and recreational activities and maybe most importantly, the places where we live.

We won’t get to a state of resilience until we recognize that earthquake preparedness in all its forms is a collective responsibility.


Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Earthquakes, Resilience

Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada


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