Five Questions with Alison Bird

A conversation between Alison Bird and Shona De Jong

Ms Bird is an Earthquake Seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. She studied physics and the University of British Columbia and geophysics at the University of Victoria, and started her career in geoscience hazard risk 23 years ago.

1. To what do you attribute your interest in hazard risk management and when did you first become aware of your interest in this discipline?

Alison Bird: When I discovered I could study earthquakes and realised it was a discipline which was not only fascinating, but one which could help people.

 2. What do you do on the job and what are your favourite aspects of your work?

Alison Bird: Earthquake location and response (on call every fourth week); research into earthquakes, associated risks and impacts; subject matter expert for earthquake exercises; outreach (lecture as part of quarterly Light Urban Search and Rescue course, and presentations to various groups, including the public). I thoroughly enjoy opportunities to speak with people and share my knowledge of earthquakes, etc, and also to learn from them. I enjoy rolling up my sleeves and delving into research; e.g. right now I am working on a pilot project using OpenQuake software to investigate earthquake risk for British Columbia – for this I have been “rupturing faults”, virtually, to determine what levels of ground motion could be expected from such earthquakes.

 3. What are some vital lessons your role has taught you? What do you think newcomers to the hazard risk management sector need to hear? What do you think geoscience hazard risk sector veterans need to do to support newcomers?

Alison Bird:I have learned that just because someone is aware of earthquake risk doesn’t mean they will take the necessary actions to make themselves safer. Much research has been done into finding the sweet spot between apathy and “head in the sand” terror, where people will be motivated to put together an emergency kit, develop a plan with their family, secure their home, and practice the “Drop, Cover and Hold on” response to earthquake shaking. The same clear message needs to be heard from multiple experts for people to take the steps towards resiliency.

The adage that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” has been reinforced for me over the years, with rewarding experiences of working with others from various levels of government, non-profits, universities, etc. toward a shared goal. There are some truly wonderful, knowledgeable, capable and motivated people out there!

 4. Which practice area is beyond the scope of your current work that you would most like to become involved in or what would your ideal geoscience hazard risk related job or project be?

Alison Bird:In the future, I hope to work with my colleagues and other groups throughout the country to develop a comprehensive multi-risk assessment for Canada.

 5. Looking ahead 10 years into the future, how will your current job description, roles and responsibilities change as a result of radical changes in technology, the environment (i.e. climate), or the economy?

Alison Bird:I am eager for means of rapid data analysis and communications which would enable reliable early warning systems (for both earthquakes and tsunamis) to be developed for the high risk areas of Canada. There has been some preliminary work done on this, but many people don’t realise that such a system is not an off-the-shelf tool which can simply be plugged in and it works; it is extremely challenging to implement a system which is both accurate enough and efficient enough that it “beats” the seismic waves, which move extremely quickly.


Alison L. Bird

Earthquake Seismologist / Sismologue de Tremblement de Terre

Geological Survey of Canada / Commission géologique du Canada



Further Reading

Bird, A.L. (2017). “The effect of a single station mis-location on the perceived distribution of earthquakes and associated stress release in the Haida Gwaii region, British Columbia”, Geological Survey of Canada Open File Report, (in review).

Bird, A.L. and J.M.A. Vergeat (2017). “Twitter Activity from the Canadian Hazards Information Service”, Geological Survey of Canada Open File Report, (in review).

Bird, A.L., J.F. Cassidy, H. Kao, L.J. Leonard, T.I. Allen, L. Nykolaishen, H. Dragert, T.E. Hobbs, A.M. Farahbod, J.M. Bednarski, T.S. James, M. Lamontagne, S.-J. Shan, R.D. Hyndman, I.V. Fine, J.Y. Cherniawsky, C.D. Brillon, K. Wang, and G.C. Rogers (2016). “The October 2012 Magnitude (Mw) 7.8 Earthquake offshore Haida Gwaii, Canada”, Summary of the Bulletin of the International Seismological Centre, 49, 7-12: 41-72.

Bird, A.L. and M. Lamontagne (2015). “How Scientists’ Communications helped mitigate the Psychosocial Effects of the October 2012 Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake near Haida Gwaii, Canada”, Seismological Research Letters, 86, doi: 10.1785/0220140231.

Bird, A.L., and M. Lamontagne (2015). “Impacts of the October 2012 Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake near Haida Gwaii, Canada”, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 105: 1178-1192, doi: 10.1785/0120140167.

Rosenberger, A., A. Bird, M.E. Turek, S. Huffman, G. Rogers, J. Cassidy, and T. Mulder (2013). “Strong motion data from the magnitude 7.7 ‘Haida Gwaii’ earthquake on October 27, 2012 (local time)”, Geological Survey of Canada Open File Report 7324, 35 pages, doi:10.4095/292275.

Cassidy, J.F., N. Balfour, C. Hickson, H. Kao, R. White, J. Caplan-Auerbach, S. Mazzotti, G.C. Rogers, I. Al-Khoubbi, A.L. Bird, L. Esteban, M. Kelman, J. Hutchinson, and D. McCormack (2011). “The 2007 Nazko, British Columbia, Earthquake Sequence: Injection of Magma Deep in the Crust beneath the Anahim Volcanic Belt” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 101: 1732-1741, doi:10.1785/0120100013.


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