More than six months after a scathing auditor-general report said B.C. was not ready for a catastrophic earthquake, the province says work has been completed on only two of the report’s recommendations but progress is being made on the other seven.
Thursday marked B.C.’s fourth annual ShakeOut, an event designed to promote earthquake preparedness and encourage people to drop to the ground, take cover under a desk or table, and hold on. Hundreds of thousands of residents took part, including students, first responders and employees at local businesses.
In late March, then-auditor general Russ Jones said the provincial government and Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) had not prioritized catastrophic earthquake planning. The justice minister immediately said all nine of the auditor-general’s recommendations would be met.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson says two of the recommendations have now been fulfilled: EMBC has developed a strategic plan to meet the province’s long-term goals, and it has worked on its procedures to ensure it is prepared to respond to a massive quake.
As for the other recommendations, the spokesperson said work is under way to establish a B.C. earthquake planning team that would be led by EMBC and supported by the Canadian Red Cross, Public Safety Canada and Department of National Defence.
The provincial government must still ensure EMBC has the necessary resources, and EMBC must report annually on the state of its catastrophic earthquake preparedness. Mr. Jones had found EMBC had not previously made clear to the public how unprepared it was for a massive quake.
A report to the province from an independent expert is due by the end of the year.
Mr. Jones, who is now the deputy auditor-general, said in an interview Thursday that members of his office will likely meet with government officials in March to review the work that’s been carried out.
In his report, Mr. Jones said he was surprised by the findings because a similar auditor-general’s report 17 years earlier had raised the same concerns.
The new report found EMBC did not have an adequate earthquake response plan and was not fully staffed. It said catastrophic earthquakes occur, on average, every 500 to 600 years, but scientists have estimated there is about a 12-per-cent chance one will occur in the next 50 years.
John Horgan, leader of the opposition B.C. NDP, said the provincial government continues to say it is taking positive action on earthquake preparedness, but is moving far too slowly. Mr. Horgan took particular issue with seismic upgrades at schools – the pace is far too slow, he said.
Premier Christy Clark, in April of last year, announced the province would commit more than $584-million to seismically upgrade 45 high-risk schools. A press release said there would be funding for 10 seismic projects in 2013-14.
Mr. Horgan said work has only begun on three of those schools. A Ministry of Education spokesperson said the funding for the projects was committed, but local districts must still submit project reports to get shovels in the ground. The spokesperson said two reports are being reviewed, and four districts have not yet submitted their reports. For one of the projects, the local board decided instead to close the school, the spokesperson said.
But Patti Bacchus, chair of the Vancouver School Board, said the seismic upgrade process does not move quickly enough. “The funding approvals for school seismic projects have become very difficult to get from the Ministry of Education,” she wrote in an e-mail. “They have quietly changed some of the proposal criteria and are sending proposals back to us asking us to cut more out of the project budgets and creating even further delays.”