Earthquakes are common in BC, with an average of 3,000 reported each year. Most are too small to be felt, but there’s a good chance one of these could be “the big one" that could leave you without natural gas or electricity for days or longer. We want you, your family and all British Columbians to be safe. Along with basic emergency kits, these tips can help make sure you and your loved ones are safe and ready – before, during and after an earthquake.
Preparing before an earthquake
- Securely strap your hot water tank. This is the most important preparation you can make, as it will keep the water line and gas line from breaking and ensure a source of water. The BC Building and Plumbing Codes now require it, and contractors who install and service water heaters can do it for you, so get it done as part of regular appliance maintenance. Find a licensed contractor near you.
- Anchor other gas appliances wherever possible. Use flexible metal connectors to connect appliances to rigid gas piping. Securing all your gas appliances properly reduces the need for a seismic shut-off valve.
- Keep the area around gas appliances clear of combustible materials, including paper, paints/solvents, laundry, propane cylinders, barbecues and gasoline-powered lawnmowers and vehicles.
- Remove pictures from over beds, or attach them securely.
- Attach heavy furniture to the wall, such as dressers.
- Install special film on windows to prevent them from shattering, especially in children’s rooms.
- Have your home inspected for shear wall strength and attachment to foundations.
Make an emergency plan
- Make an emergency kit.
Stock up at least a three-day supply of food, water, clothes, medical supplies and other necessary equipment for everyone in your family. Make sure everyone knows where to find them.
- Know the safest place in each room. It will be difficult to move from one room to another during a quake.
- Establish all the possible ways to exit your house. Consider how planned exits could be blocked in a real earthquake, and try to keep those areas clear at all times.
- Decide where and when to reunite your family. Choose an emergency contact person outside the immediate area to call if family members are separated. Long-distance phone service will probably be restored sooner than local service. Don’t use the phone right after an earthquake.
- Know the policies of the school or daycare centre your children attend. Make plans to have someone pick them up if you are unable to get to them.
- Prepare an emergency card written in English for any family member who does not speak English, indicating that person's identification, address and any special needs such as medication allergies. Tell that person to keep the card with him/her at all times.
- Keep a clear path to your meter at all times
as well as water shut-off valves and breaker panels, so crews can reach them in an emergency.
- Know where the shut-off valve for each appliance is and how to use it – but do not shut off your natural gas if you receive an evacuation order unless you smell gas or believe there is a leak. If fire or emergency officials request FortisBC to do so, we will turn off natural gas service as a precautionary measure, or if there is an immediate threat to FortisBC infrastructure. (See the After an earthquake section for more information).
Practise your emergency plan
- Practise taking cover and holding on as if it were an earthquake. Participating in the Great BC Shakeout drill can help you learn how to protect yourself.
- Practise getting out of your home or building. Check to see if the planned exits are clear and consider how they could become blocked in an earthquake.
Check your insurance policy
A basic homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover damage caused by an earthquake. Many people appreciate the peace of mind of adding earthquake coverage to their policy.
Stay where you are when the ground moves
Wherever you are, stay where you are until the ground stops shaking and it is safe to move. Avoid windows, hanging objects, mirrors or tall furniture.
- At home or work: drop, cover and hold on under a desk, table or other furniture. If that’s not possible, seek cover against an interior wall (preferably in a corner) and protect your head and neck with your arms. If you take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, hold on to it and be prepared to move with it.
- In a highrise building: if you are not near a desk or table, get up against an interior wall (preferably in a corner). Protect your head with your arms. Don’t use the elevators. Don’t run into the street – there is a danger from falling glass.
- Outdoors: move to a clear area away from trees, signs, buildings or downed electrical wires and poles.
- On a sidewalk near buildings: duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass, plaster and other debris.
- In your car: pull over to the side of the road and stop. Try to avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay in your vehicle until the shaking stops.
- In a crowded store or other public place: move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall. Don’t rush for the exit.
- In a stadium or theatre: stay in your seat, get below the level of the back of the seat and cover your head and neck with your arms.
When the shaking is over
A major earthquake can last from several seconds to several minutes and may be followed by a number of aftershocks.
When it’s safe, keeping the safety of your family in mind, check your appliances and utilities for damage. Check the vents, chimney and connections at each gas appliance to be sure they have not been dislodged or blocked. If your gas appliances or gas pipes have been damaged, do not use them until they have been thoroughly inspected by a licensed gas contractor. You can find a licensed contractor using our online directory.
If you smell rotten eggs or hear the sound of escaping gas, go outside and call the FortisBC Emergency Line at 1-800-663-9911 (24 hours) or 911.
Watch out for downed power lines
If you’re outside or in your car after a quake, be alert for downed power lines.
Even wires that are quiet and without sparks could still be live. If you see one, stay
at least 10 metres away (33 feet, about the length of a school bus).
Natural gas service outages
Do not shut off your natural gas if you receive an evacuation order. If fire or emergency officials request FortisBC to do so, we will turn off natural gas service as a precautionary measure, or if there is an immediate threat to FortisBC infrastructure. Once fire or emergency officials confirm the situation is safe, FortisBC takes a number of steps to safely restore natural gas service:
- We will assess the natural gas system in the affected area, repair any damage and reactivate the affected system.
- FortisBC crews will visit each home to relight all affected appliances and restore gas service at the meter, if required.
- If you are not at home, a FortisBC technician will leave a door tag that provides contact information. Call 1-877-711-8877 for relights.
Will the natural gas system survive an earthquake?
Built from high-strength welded steel and polyethylene plastic pipe, our natural gas system was designed, installed and tested to meet strict industry standards in order to maximize public safety.
In other areas where major earthquakes have occurred, natural gas delivery systems similar to ours have withstood ground movement extremely well.
It is unlikely that gas lines will rupture due to an earthquake. However, it is possible that a leak could occur inside your home or building due to earth movement. If you smell gas, do not operate electrical switches or create sources of ignition, get everyone out of the building, then call us at 1-800-663-9911 (24 hours) or 911.