Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

Earthquake expert is next Forum speaker

By GEORGE SIPOS

Some 40 years ago my wife and I lived in Kew, a suburb of London under the main flight-path to Heathrow. In addition to all the normal jets headed toward the airport, once every afternoon the British Airways Concorde flew over our street.

I guess the plane was a novelty at the time, but to us the roar of its passage was a daily annoyance. It stopped conversation, rattled dishes in our kitchen cupboards, and most days woke the baby from her nap.

In the context of the recent enormous earthquake in Turkey and Syria, I should blush even to mention the Concorde. What, after all, is the annoyance of having our house shaken for a few minutes every day compared with the apocalyptic devastation of 46,000 people killed under collapsed rubble, thousands of buildings destroyed, millions of survivors left shelterless in the cold of winter?

And yet, the comparison provides an avenue to grasping some sense of the meaning of earthquakes. One minute the earth is solid, our houses are safe, our lives are unfolding predictably; and the next minute that solidity vanishes. Roads crack open, trees sway, furniture marches across the floor, ceilings collapse.

Nor is it just a matter of damage (whether our crockery falls out of the kitchen cupboard, whether our house has fallen off its foundation). What shocks us profoundly is the sudden wrenching away of what should be normal, solid, dependable. And should that wrenching involve the death of our loved ones, all the more appalling.

And yet we have no choice but to live with such catastrophes when they happen — whether predictably as with the Concorde’s daily schedule, or once every few hundred years when the Earth’s tectonic plates suddenly shift.

What can help us live with such events is knowledge, understanding and a degree of preparedness. Once we know Concorde’s schedule, we can at least close the window in the baby’s room so she can keep sleeping. If we have some understanding of how earthquakes happen, what aftershocks are, what our safest immediate responses can be and how best we can respond to the damage of the aftermath, we can at least be spared the unexpected vertigo of unforeseen calamity.

It is with this in mind that the Salt Spring Forum has invited John Cassidy, senior research scientist with Natural Resources Canada and leader of the Geological Survey of Canada’s national Assessing Earthquake and Volcanic Geohazards Project, to help us understand earthquakes, our own susceptibility to them on the West Coast, and our best responses, both by way of preparedness and available strategies for mitigating any aftermath.

As with all Forum events, this will be less a lecture and more an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and have a conversation with our expert guest. The aim is not to frighten anyone but to ease fear, since what is understood is easier to live with than what surprises.

Cassidy’s event will be at ArtSpring starting at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 26. Forum events normally last an hour and a half. Tickets may be purchased from the ArtSpring box office or online via ArtSpring’s or the Forum’s websites.

As with all events in the ArtSpring theatre, the wearing of masks is strongly encouraged in the interests of public health.

The writer is an author and the Salt Spring Forum’s treasurer.

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