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BC Hydro upgrades system to help prepare for natural disasters

John Hart Dam
BC Hydro is replacing the John Hart facility in Campbell River because the existing water pipelines and generating station may not withstand a low to moderate earthquake.

We're working to improve our ability to react, respond and recover

Electricity is the backbone of B.C.’s economy and it powers our way of life. If a major natural disaster, like an earthquake, hits areas of our province, timely power restoration is critical to the recovery of essential services and infrastructure.

Power will be needed for emergency centres, hospitals and other key facilities.
That’s why BC Hydro is making major investments in key facilities like dams, substations and control stations and taking steps to improve its ability to react, respond and recover from a natural disaster.

Investing in dams, substations and facilities

BC Hydro is preparing for a natural disaster by upgrading our existing facilities, investing in new infrastructure and maintaining a program of regular site inspections to protect public and worker safety.

For example, we are currently making upgrades to the Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse near Mission and will start work soon on the John Hart Generating Station in Campbell River. On the transmission side, we are strengthening the transmission system by reinforcing key substations, towers and underground cables.

When we add to our electrical system we are incorporating seismic standards so that these facilities will withstand a natural disaster. For example, the Vancouver City Central Transmission project, currently under construction, includes underground transmission cables installed at a depth where the ground is not prone to liquefaction during an earthquake.

The new Mount Pleasant substation, being built as part of this project, will be one of the safest places in Vancouver to be in during an earthquake and can operate post-disaster. This project will also help speed the restoration of power to customers in Vancouver in the event of a disaster by adding redundancy and resiliency to the power transmission system that supplies the city.

BC Hydro has made and continues to make upgrades to several key facilities throughout the province:

  • The Fraser Valley Operations Centre is a state-of-the-art system control centre that is BC Hydro’s central hub for managing the electricity system across the province.  This centre is specifically built to operate in the event of a natural disaster. We have also built a back-up facility in the Okanagan to ensure BC Hydro can instantly transfer control should anything happen to the primary centre in the Lower Mainland.
  • Coquitlam Dam: seismic upgrade was completed in 2008 which involved building a new earth and rock dam downstream from the original dam.
  • John Hart Dam and Generating Station: replacing the facility in Campbell River because the water pipelines and generating station may not withstand a low to moderate earthquake.
  • Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse: upgrading the facility to meet modern seismic standards. With this investment, the Ruskin Dam would survive a severe earthquake without significant damage – it is being designed to withstand the one-in-10,000 year earthquake.
  • Regional emergency operations centres are being built to be functional after a disaster in key operational areas like Port Alberni, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Victoria, Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Prince George and Vernon.

Preparing to recover from a disaster

BC Hydro recently initiated our own audit of our practices to identify areas where further steps are needed to improve emergency preparedness. A few areas we are working on include:
Strategy: We have created a three-year strategic resiliency plan and we are taking every step to accelerate our efforts. As part of the plan, each business group within BC Hydro will develop individual response and recovery plans. We do have existing plans in place. However, we need to ensure existing and new plans are better integrated to ensure a coordinated response across the organization.
Employees: We are also working to ensure that employees better understand their role during an emergency: how and where they will perform critical activities if their normal workplaces are not operational. This includes training and more frequent hands-on exercises for practice.
Partners:  In May, BC Hydro joined the Western Energy Institute Regional Mutual Assistance Agreement. Thanks to this agreement, we can work with utilities in the United States and Canada to bring assistance in from outside of the province to help with power restoration.
We have made significant progress in recent years in improving our ability to coordinate our response to emergencies and will continue to build on this work.