Understanding risk: An earthquake risk assessment for Canada and RiskProfiler.ca

By Makaila Wenezenki, Phillip LeSueur, and Tiegan Hobbs

Natural Resources Canada is leading an earthquake risk assessment for Canada and has developed a platform for sharing risk information at RiskProfiler.ca. 

How does this initiative contribute to understanding risk in Canada?

RiskProfiler.ca provides information about the consequences from potential earthquake events (scenarios), and from all earthquakes that could affect Canada area over time (probabilistic earthquake risk). For each earthquake scenario, you can explore the extent and level of ground shaking; expected consequences in terms of potential death, dollars, and damage; debris volume estimations, and the potential benefit of building retrofits. For all of Canada, you can explore probabilistic earthquake risk information such as the potential risk to life, the economic risk from earthquakes, or the level of risk of an area relative to the rest of Canada. Further technical information, such as analysis methods, is available at RiskProfiler.ca.

To quantify earthquake risk in Canada, Natural Resources Canada generated a state-of-the-art exposure model covering the entire country. It uses satellite remote sensing and census data to create an inventory of buildings and occupants, including information about the construction type and seismic design level. Natural Resources Canada also partnered with the Global Earthquake Model Foundation to create fragility and vulnerability functions, which relate seismic shaking to levels of damage or financial loss. These advances, along with implementation of the latest National Seismic Hazard Model, allow for a robust calculation of seismic risk from coast to coast to coast. 

Who are the intended users?

 RiskProfiler is currently developed for community planners and emergency managers to understand  earthquake risk and inform evidence-based risk reduction plans. It is also likely of interest to Indigenous Nations, governments, and insurance providers. The information can help practitioners answer important questions such as: What are the consequences of an earthquake? What areas and individuals are at highest risk from an earthquake? Are the earthquake risks tolerable to our community? How should we plan to respond in the event of an earthquake? We intend to make RiskProfiler useful to the general public in the future.

In practice: Exploring a M9.0 Cascadia Full Rupture Subduction Earthquake Scenario in BC

Map of Vancouver

In the M9.0 Cascadia scenario (Hobbs, Journeay, & Rotheram, 2021), RiskProfiler illustrates the potential effects of a magnitude 9.0 event along the Cascadia interface fault, the fault defining the boundary between the North American and Pacific Ocean tectonic plates. This event is often referred to as ‘The Big One’ and it will affect most communities in southwestern British Columbia.

RiskProfiler first provides a general overview of this scenario, sharing details such as estimated damage to 18,000 buildings and costing $38 billion CAD in dollars. RiskProfiler then presents additional indicators to further examine this scenario. 

For example, the M9.0 Cascadia scenario suggests 33,000 tonnes of disaster debris will be created in ‘Greater Vancouver A’ division, near Iron Bay (pictured). Of this, 16,000 tonnes is estimated to result from buildings in the commercial occupancy class. RiskProfiler.ca can be used to examine these – and other – metrics across geographies of interest.

For more information, contact earthquakerisk-risquessismiques@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca


Makaila Wenezenki is the Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator at Natural Resources Canada.

Phillip LeSueur is a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada.

Tiegan Hobbs is a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada.


Hobbs, T.E., Journeay, J.M., Rotheram, D. (2021). An Earthquake Scenario Catalogue for Canada: A Guide to Using Scenario Hazard and Risk Results. Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 8806, 22 p. https://doi.org/10.4095/328364