Ann English, CEO and registrar at the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. (APEGBC), says her association can help British Columbia prepare for a catastrophic earthquake when The Big One hits the province.
English said Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC), which is developing a provincial earthquake preparedness plan, should be put to use The Seismic Mitigation Program for B.C. Schools, which was created 10 years ago by APEGBC, the Ministry of Education and the University of B.C.
"APEGBC will recommend that the B.C. government apply the school seismic mitigation model to all public buildings and critical economic infrastructure in the province," English said.
"Adopting the application of common risk evaluation guidelines will allow all levels of government and the private sector to better organize and target limited resources."
English said that APEGBC also recommends that the core operations of government be included in the evaluation.
"If, for example, an earthquake were to hit lower Vancouver Island while the legislature was in session, the damage to B.C.’s Parliament buildings could have severe consequences on the operation of government in an emergency," she said.
APEGBC is participating in the B.C. government’s earthquake consultation process, which is part of the preparedness plan, through the Earthquake Review Board.
"We’re currently discussing with EMBC the ways in which APEGBC could support efforts to improve public safety related to earthquakes," English said.
"If adopted for public buildings, the Seismic Retrofit Guidelines would need to be adapted for use with other building types. They are currently intended solely for use in the seismic retrofitting of schools."
The origins of the school seismic upgrade program date back to 2004, when the Ministry of Education engaged APEGBC and UBC’s Earthquake Engineering Research Institute in a two-pronged mission:
To conduct a comprehensive update of how B.C. schools can be expected to perform in a major earthquake and to upgrade the technical guidelines for seismic retrofits.
The program that resulted from the collaboration contains assessment tools and procedures for engineers to determine how different sections of school buildings in different parts of B.C.’s seismic zones will withstand different types of earthquakes.
It also has technical guidelines for engineers to follow when planning school retrofits, and access to support from APEGBC’s technical review committee.
In addition, a data analyzer gives engineers access to more than eight million sets of seismic retrofit analysis to help them in the assessment and retrofit design of school structures.
"Because of the mitigation program, B.C. has a smart, science-based approach to protect our children in an earthquake, allowing government to efficiently target resources where they’re most needed," English said.
APEGBC made its suggestions to the government following a March 2014 report by B.C.’s auditor general Russ Jones, which said EMBC wasn’t prepared for a catastrophic earthquake.
In reply to the report, EMBC has started working on a long-term earthquake response plan, a province-wide consultation on earthquake preparedness and a public education campaign.
EMBC spokesman Jeff Groot said the agency is planning to develop an immediate earthquake response plan by the end of March 2015, a sustained response plan by the end of March 2016 and long-term recovery plan by the end of March 2017.
Consultation chairman Henry Renteria, the former director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, has been holding community consultations around the province.
Renteria is meeting with more than a dozen communities in B.C., including Chilliwack, Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay, Port McNeil, Terrace, Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte Village on Haida Gwaii and Kelowna.
Meetings started May 29 in Kelowna and continue until the end of July.
The consultations will wrap up with a report to government by the end of 2014.
English said the threat of an earthquake in B.C. is not hypothetical.
"The question is not if a significant earthquake will hit, but when," she said
"Since 1872, nine earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.0 have shaken our region, most recently near Haida Gwaii in 2012."
English said the only question is when our luck runs out and a big earthquake hits a populated area.
"As the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011 shows, when such an earthquake hits, the result is significant damage," she said.
The Christchurch earthquake damaged more than 10,000 homes, destroyed 7,500 more, and resulted in the demolition of 1,400 buildings.
The total loss: more than $30 billion or 10 per cent of New Zealand’s GDP.
"That was in a city the size of Victoria," English said.
"Imagine the economic impact if a similar-sized earthquake hit Metro Vancouver."