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Earthquakes in Alberta: Are You Ready to Rumble?

By AMA Staff

You may have felt it once or twice. A brief tremor, an uncertain vibration. No, it wasn’t your imagination. In fact, it may have been an earthquake. Alberta has had 2,153 of them since 2006. That’s an average of 165 earthquakes annually, up from 19 per year between 1985 and 2005. While most have been minor—occasionally felt, and rarely damaging to buildings or infrastructure—their frequency is nevertheless closely monitored at seismic stations throughout the province. Ryan Saelens, director of member experience for AMA Insurance, explains why it’s good to know that, every so often, Alberta can experience a mild case of the shakes.

How strong are earthquakes in Alberta?
You’ve probably heard of the Richter scale, which records the magnitude of an earthquake from 1 to 10 (though technically the scale has no upper limit). Earthquakes of 6.0 and above are considered strong. Historically, earthquakes in Alberta have been minor—measuring between 2.5 and 3.9. But on March 4, 2019, a 4.6-magnitude quake occurred outside of Red Deer. It was powerful enough to knock breakable items off of walls and shelves in some homes, and may have caused wall cracks at one property. The province’s largest recorded earthquake was in 2001—a 5.3-magnitude event outside of Peace River.

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Where do they tend to occur?
The majority of our recorded earthquakes have had epicentres in the Rockies and their foothills, in areas of instability associated with the creation of the mountains more than 100 million years ago. By Alberta standards, areas such as Banff, Canmore, Jasper and Fort Macleod have the highest earthquake risk; locations like Grand Prairie, Calgary and Rocky Mountain House are at medium risk. It’s worth noting that Alberta experiences far fewer quakes than British Columbia, which sits near the convergence of two major tectonic plates that are constantly pushing against one another.

Should I be concerned?
There’s certainly no cause for alarm, but Albertans should be aware that earthquakes can and do happen in our province. Unlike other events such as storms, avalanches and wildfires, earthquakes remain impossible to predict—and they can happen at any time. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to safeguard yourself and your property, should a significant quake ever occur.

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What can I do to stay safe?
With minor and medium-strength earthquakes, falling objects pose the most immediate danger. In your home, ensure bookcases and shelves are secured to walls. And when possible, light fixtures should be hung from electrical boxes that are fastened to ceiling joists. In the event of a noticeable quake, remain calm and move away from any objects that could fall.

How should I protect against damage?
Coverage for earthquakes has always been available to Albertans through their insurance companies, including AMA Insurance. But because most people will never need it, that coverage isn’t included by default. Instead, it can be purchased as an add-on to your home insurance policy. If you have questions about this coverage, talk to your insurance advisor.