$20M invested to respond to quakes, spills

Projects include small underwater observatories, high-frequency radars and an automatic identification system

An investment of more than $20 million to help B.C. coastal communities, including those on Vancouver Island, better prepare and respond to major disasters including earthquakes and oil spills was announced Monday.

Furthering the University of Victoria’s goal to build the world’s smartest coastline, the federal government has contributed $9.1 million from its Western Economic Diversification fund, and IBM Canada is investing $12 million into Ocean Networks Canada’s Smart Oceans B.C. program.

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The funding will be used toward development and placement of more than 100 small-scale underwater sensors, radars and an automatic identification system that will complement observatories already in place.

Ocean Networks Canada, which operates the NEPTUNE and VENUS ocean observatories, will add the small-scale underwater observatories to its existing underwater footprint, which includes areas near Port Metro Vancouver, Campbell River, Kitimat, the Douglas Channel waterway and Prince Rupert.

The small-scale observatories will function as navigation aids while providing information on water quality and the state of sea conditions. They also will serve as disaster warning systems, and data collected will help in planning for disaster response.

“This is such positive news for Victoria and the country because we’re seeing an economic growth cluster start here and we’re seeing increased information, in terms of safety for the coastline, and we’re also seeing the development of new technology,” said Michelle Rempel, federal minister of state for Western Economic Diversification. She attended the announcement at UVic’s Technology Enterprise Facility along with Eric Johnson of IBM, and Kate Moran, president of Ocean Networks Canada.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May was also at the announcement, saying she put the funding request in front of Rempel who expressed immediate interest.

“While it does have application for tanker traffic — which, of course, I’m opposed to — it also has really important applications for safety for predicting earthquakes and tsunamis, and it does a lot for baseline knowledge for our environment,” said May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

In the face of criticisms about a proposed increase in oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast, the Conservative government said the expansion of the observatories will bolster its commitment to responsible resource development by helping prevent accidents, increase response capabilities in the event of disasters and improve the prediction of natural hazards.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Rempel said, in a media scrum. “Our government will not support any project that is not proven through science to be safe for the country or its peoples,” Rempel said.

“But we also want to make sure that when we’re looking at the impact of these projects that we are doing everything we can, as a government, to be a credible regulator. Which is why we have the responsible resource development package — increased safety monitoring standards for pipelines and tankers, penalties for those who would break the rules.”

Rempel said to make science-based decisions, one needs the best science. IBM will provide the hardware, software, services and analysts — through intern positions — to help develop the models from the sensors’ data that will allow anyone to predict and plan disasters, marine safety and environmental monitoring.

charnett@timescolonist.com

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