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Old drawings could assist new earthquake plan at the B.C. Legislature

The imposing British Columbia Parliament Buildings have a fatal weakness: they could collapse in a major earthquake.

The legislature, as the buildings are more commonly known, was built long before modern seismic building codes were adopted. Engineers have identified its iconic dome above the centre block as being particularly vulnerable to damage.

Fixing the century-old structure would be expensive with past estimates pegging a retrofit at somewhere between $700 million and $900 million.

But now the Speaker and legislative officers are working on a proposal that could lead to the construction of a new seismically-robust back-up building.

Craig James, a legislative clerk, said such a plan could draw inspiration from a historic architect.

Francis Rattenbury gained fame in the early 1900’s for a number of landmark buildings, including the B.C. Parliament Buildings and the nearby Empress Hotel.

“One option that we have is to take one of Rattenbury’s drawings to replicate a portion of this building over there, which in looking at it would be spectacular,” said James.

The proposal would see the old brick armoury building that currently stands behind the legislature torn down to make way for a new building.

“That building would in some part replicate on a smaller scale this place,” James said. “But also a larger chamber could be built over there so that in the event that something did happen here and this place was unusable, perhaps we could use it.”

Of course, government does not need an ornate legislative assembly to function. And building a back-up legislative assembly would not be cheap, likely costing tens of millions of dollars. But James notes that is about one-tenth of the cost of retrofitting the legislature itself.

Gary Lenz, the sergeant-at-arms, says ensuring continuity of government and a rapid response to an emergency are important.

“We all form that linkage towards passing of bills and legislation, which is critical if there’s a major earthquake or there’s a major disaster in the province.”

Speaker Darryl Plecas said a new building would play a crucial role in an emergency, and would also make the eventual seismic upgrade of the legislature more feasible.

“We could really be helpful in two ways. One is we help ensure continuity of government because we have a place for people to work. And then we have a place to work whilst we were doing seismic upgrading, so we provide for an enhanced level of safety along the way.”

In the meantime, legislative staff are working on improving the earthquake response plan, including better securing some of the statues atop the building’s exterior.

Other measures already in effect on the grounds include early warning sensors and accessible containers with emergency supplies.

Staff also hope to have early warning apps installed on mobile phones belonging to legislature employees within the coming months.


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Are you ’emergency ready’? The Great B.C. ShakeOut is here

Ahead of Thursday’s Great B.C. ShakeOut — a province-wide earthquake drill — emergency responders are reminding people what it actual means to be “emergency ready.”

“It is not enough for people to purchase a 72-hour emergency kit, to be really ready for any emergency, one needs to have an emergency plan, a kit of supplies, be trained to administer first aid and continue to maintain their supplies and skills for an emergency,” Karen MacPherson, CEO of St. John Ambulance British Columbia and Yukon said in a media release.

A survey of 800 people conducted by Ipsos Reid last April found that just 7 per cent of British Columbians are doing all four things that St. John Ambulance says you need to be ready for a major emergency like an earthquake: create an emergency plan, build an emergency kit, get trained in first aid and fourth, keep all three up to date.

People should be prepared to be sufficient for up to 72 hours.

Despite so few people saying they’re actually doing all four things, the survey — which was commissioned by St. John Ambulance — found that 34 per cent of British Columbians rate their household’s overall level of emergency readiness as “excellent/good.”

St. John Ambulance suggests people check out their website — — where they’ve identified “four easy steps to become ’emergency ready,’ complete with a free emergency ready plan and checklist.”

The Great B.C. Shakeout is scheduled for Thursday at 10:19 a.m. At that time, participants should practice how to “drop, Cover and hold on,” St. John Ambulance explained. Register at


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4.5-magnitude earthquake rattles Vancouver Island

Officials say a small earthquake has struck off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The United States Geological Survey says the 4.5-magnitude quake struck at 2:26 a.m. Wednesday.

The tremor’s epicentre was recorded about 170 kilometres west of Tofino at a depth of 10 kilometres.

No injuries or damage were reported.

Emergency Info BC said in a tweet that the earthquake did not pose any threat.


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Preparing for B.C.’s ‘big one’: What Mexico’s earthquake is telling experts

Preparing for B.C.’s ‘big one’: What Mexico’s earthquake is telling experts

With the death toll of Mexico’s earthquake at 225 and counting and rescue efforts continuing, UBC researchers are weighing in on how a similar quake would affect the Vancouver area.

Carlos Ventura is a professor in civil engineering and the director of the earthquake engineering research facility at UBC. Ventura’s work studies the behaviour of structures under the influence of seismic activity. When asked if the Lower Mainland would see similar destruction to Mexico City, Ventura said not necessarily.

“Mexico City was built on a lake — a dry lake,” he said. “That is like gelatin. Every time there is an earthquake the shaking is always enhanced.”

In Vancouver, the soil conditions are different. Even Richmond, which has softer soil than other areas in the Lower Mainland, doesn’t have the same type of clay that Mexico has.

Even so, Ventura said Mexico’s 7.0 magnitude quake is still a reminder that Vancouver is in “earthquake country.”

“Everybody is always concerned about the ‘big one,’ the subduction earthquake, magnitude nine, etcetera, but the probability of having an earthquake like the one today near Vancouver is very real,” he said. “And that, to us, is the message right now.”

Vancouver resident Jaime Stein is currently in Mexico and felt the earthquake from the 14th floor of an office building. For him, experiencing the shaking first-hand was unlike what he imagined it would be, even though Vancouver’s “big one” is often on his mind.

“I’ve never been in anything like that,” he told CTV News over Skype. “As a Vancouver native you always think about a potential earthquake coming, but when it started moving it was like being on a really rocky boat and your legs aren’t as strong as you think they are. You’re just trying to move as quick as you can and you just hope that it ends quickly.”

Here in Vancouver, Ventura said the quality of construction is a significant factor in how much damage the city would see. Currently, the building code allows buildings to take some damage without collapsing. The philosophy of the building code, he explained, is to ensure people can evacuate safely. Instead, Ventura said some residential homes including mega-homes from the 1980s and quickly constructed mid-rise buildings could be at a greater risk.

“There are some old buildings that have been there for centuries, being subjected to very strong earthquakes and they’re still standing,” he said. “So being old doesn’t mean being bad. It’s just good construction and that makes a difference.”


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‘It was scary really’: Mexicans in B.C. anxious in aftermath of earthquake

Mexicans in B.C. are anxious but determined to help after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City on Tuesday evening.

According to Mexican officials, 225 people were killed, less than two weeks after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico, killing nearly 100 people.

Gustavo Garcia is a cook at a Vancouver restaurant, but his parents and sisters live in Mexico City.

“It was scary really,” he said.

“A lot of buildings — around 30, 40 buildings — went down.

The city was in chaos.

One of the neighbourhoods close to my house was completely destroyed.”

Garcia said he was overcome with relief when his mother called and said his family’s home was safe.

But close by, many people needed help.

“[Across] the street. it was a school. It was a kindergarten and some of the students were trapped in the school as well. A friend of mine called me and said he was trying to help people, that there were people screaming,” said Garcia.

“I wish I could be there to help.”

The quake struck just hours after an annual drill which falls on the anniversary of a deadly earthquake in 1985.

‘It’s like gelatin’

UBC civil engineering professor Carlos Ventura studies earthquakes in an effort to make buildings safer, and has conducted research in Mexico.

He says Mexico City is unique because it is built on the bed of a former lake.

“It is mostly the type of material that is very soft — it’s like gelatin,” he said.

“Imagine a bowl of gelatin that you’re shaking, and in the middle it shakes more and if you put buildings there then the shaking will increase significantly.”

Ventura said he hopes to get a team of Canadian civil engineers together to travel to Mexico City to help in the rescue and rebuilding efforts.

No warning system in B.C.

In many of the videos coming out of Mexico, a droning siren can be heard just before the shaking begins.

Mexico City’s early detection system gave people approximately 10 seconds of warning that the earthquake was coming.

But in B.C., which shares several tectonic similarities with Mexico, there’s still no functional early detection system.

Ocean Networks Canada is developing a detection system for B.C. with $5-million in funding, and plans on delivering the technology to the province in 2019.


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5.1 magnitude earthquake strikes near the Yukon, B.C., Alaska border Saturday

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the border between Yukon, B.C., and Alaska Saturday afternoon, Earthquakes Canada reports.

The quake happened shortly after 4:30 p.m. PT about 87 kilometres northwest of Skagway, Alaska and 116 kilometres southwest of Whitehorse.

People in Whitehorse reported some shaking Saturday, but there have not been any reports of damage.

Earthquakes Canada — which is part of Natural Resources Canada — says this quake would not be expected to cause significant damages.

In May, a pair of earthquakes struck the region, with a Whitehorse school and office building closing because of the damage in those quakes.


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Minor earthquake strikes west of Port Hardy, B.C.

A 4.7 magnitude earthquake struck 162 kilometres west of Port Hardy, B.C., early Saturday afternoon.

Earthquake Canada said the quake struck at 1:38 p.m. PT and was 10 kilometres deep.

No tsunami advisories have been issued as a result of the quake, and there are no reports so far that anyone felt it.


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UBC quake simulation tests retrofits, underscores need to upgrade older buildings

It took about 40 seconds before the effects of the simulated earthquake on the wooden structure were audible: snapping, cracking, popping.

It was the extraordinary sound of nails coming out of the plywood exterior walls of the demonstration, one-room school, and also the sound of the plywood ripping apart between two windows, and the screws pulling away from the drywall.

The wood structure itself, at the height of the two minutes of shaking, swayed side-to-side like a tree in a storm. It was hard to imagine somebody being inside and remaining unhurt.

Modelled after the 9.0 Tohoku temblor in Japan in 2011 that created a devastating tsunami that killed thousands, the test at the University of B.C.’s Earthquake Engineering Research Facility was meant to simulate a large subduction quake off the West Coast, the so-called “Big One,” that would hit Victoria and Vancouver Island, explained Martin Turek, manager of the facility.

Scientists estimate a 10-per-cent probability of the Big One hitting in the next 50 years.

Even on the third test Wednesday on the large shake table, at 120-per-cent beyond what the province’s building code requires, the structure remained largely intact.

However, on inspection after the test, consulting structural engineer Graham Taylor, who has been part of the UBC earthquake research team for nearly 20 years, said such a structure would likely be “red-tagged,” meaning it could no longer be inhabited.

The one-room school had fared well at the 70- and 1oo-per-cent test levels.

That’s good news.

But given that the one-room building, with weights on top to simulate a second floor, was built to demonstrate how a retrofitted school building would perform, it’s also a warning of the damage that would be expected of older buildings that haven’t been upgraded.

Taylor noted that a wooden structure built, for example, in the 1950s would have come apart at one of the two lower-level tests. That’s because they don’t have seismic hold-downs, large bolts that connect the walls to the foundation, and also don’t have the bracket that provides lateral support for walls. The older buildings also aren’t built with half-inch plywood on the outer walls, positioned and nailed optimally to withstand the shaking.

A study released earlier this year, headed by UBC structural engineer Carlos Ventura, director of the university’s quake research centre, found that nearly 4,000 buildings in Victoria are at-risk of complete damage from a major temblor.

Vancouver is at less risk from the Big One off the coast of the Island, because of distance, but is also susceptible to earthquakes on land and in the Strait of Georgia, at shallow and deep levels.

“What we’ve seen here today, we pushed it harder beyond what the code is requiring, and it did very well. So, there’s a huge benefit in upgrading buildings,” said Taylor. “Conversely, when we see this level of damage with a highly engineered structure, and this level of damage would take place with a very low level of shaking for a vulnerable structure, it’s all the more reason we have to think seriously about fixing them (the older buildings) as quickly as possible.”

The tests are also providing information that will help engineers more quickly assess buildings. That’s because the test results, combined with information being collected on soil in specific areas, will pinpoint the most-vulnerable buildings.

That information — showing which buildings are the most vulnerable — will also help underpin the argument for seismically upgrading buildings, said Graham.

The province and municipalities have been slow to act on pro-actively addressing the seismic risk of older buildings. An investigation by Postmedia News, published in 2016, revealed that the City of Vancouver had failed to create a proactive plan to reduce the seismic hazard of the city’s older private buildings despite identifying a need to do so more than two decades ago.

Of more than 1,100 buildings included in a seismic-risk assessment by the city in 1994, hundreds appeared to have had no seismic upgrades, the Postmedia examination also discovered.


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‘Slow slip’ earthquake season raises risk of ‘The Big One’

B.C. is headed back into another one of its riskier seismic seasons, raising the risk of “The Big One,” earthquake experts say.

Every 14 months, the Cascadian subduction zone — which runs from northern Vancouver Island down to northern California — experiences what seismologists call a “slow slip.”

This year’s slip has already kicked off underneath Washington State and is expected to reach B.C. any day now.

The phenomenon happens when seismic stress shifts onto the fault area where the Juan de Fuca and North American plates lock together.

That causes thousands of mini-tremors and heightens the likelihood of a major earthquake event in B.C., according to seismologist Alison Bird.

“If that locked zone is close to critical, and you add more stress on to it … that could trigger, theoretically, the ‘megathrust’ earthquake,” said Bird, who works for the Geological Survey of Canada.

As for how much more risk that is, she says it’s been likened to the increased risk of driving in rush hour traffic.

“Going for a drive in the country on a Sunday, you’re not that likely to be in a car accident. But if it’s rush hour in Vancouver and there’s a game on … you’re more likely to be in an accident. You’re not necessarily going to be, but the probabilities are higher.”

Tremors undetectable

The tremors caused by the slip are different from routine earthquakes that occur in the Pacific Northwest, and they aren’t felt on the surface because they originate so far underground.

“We look at a tremor as sort of a slow earthquake … it’s like you stretch a magnitude-3.0 earthquake over an hour-and-a-half,” Bird said.

During the last slow slip, which began in late December 2015, around 8,000 mini-tremors were recorded.

Two earthquakes off Vancouver Island and near Seattle, Wash. on Wednesday night aren’t “at all related” to the slip because they happened away from the locked-zone region, Bird said.

She said the phenomenon almost serves as a calendar reminder to British Columbians to be prepared.

“We are living in a seismically active area. We will have damaging earthquakes — they’re guaranteed,” Bird said. “A lot of people use that cycle to remind them to check on their kit, to review their plan, that sort of thing.

“It’s a good ‘prompt’ to make sure you’re ready for an earthquake when it happens.”


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Magnitude 4.2 earthquake detected north of Powell River

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake struck northeast of Powell River, B.C. on Saturday morning.

No damage has been reported and a tsunami is not expected.

The tremor hit 139 kilometres from the Sunshine Coast city around 6:40 a.m., according to Earthquakes Canada.

The agency said the tremor was felt in Port Alberni, Gibsons and other cities in the region.

The USGS rated the magnitude at 4.0, and said it was triggered a little more than 17 kilometres underground.


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