Tornado prompts concerns about disaster preparedness in B.C. schools

The ever-present threat of natural disaster is a major concern for Vancouver schools in the wake of the catastrophic Oklahoma tornado that has killed 24 people to date.

Patti Bacchus, Vancouver School Board chair, said she thought immediately of B.C. schools while watching footage of the destruction in Oklahoma Monday.

“We know we have a significant risk of a fairly serious earthquake striking the area, and we aren’t prepared for that,” she said.

B.C.’s seismic mitigation program began in 2004, and 213 schools have been upgraded or replaced since then, at a cost of $2.2 billion. Bacchus said there is still more work to be done.

“They’re expensive projects, but those are schools that have been assessed by engineers to be at high risk of significant structural damage and in the worst case, collapse in the event of an earthquake,” she said.

Timing is the real concern, and Bacchus said a lack of urgency in upgrade approvals needs to be change.

“It is slow, we’re taking a real gamble. We’ve been lucky so far, but we can’t count on luck,” Bacchus said.

Bacchus said she has heard of parents wanting to move their children to schools that have the seismic upgrades.

Laurie Boyle said she feels more confident sending her children to Lord Kitchener Elementary after it was replaced in November of last year.

“It’s a big relief because the old school was a real dump. It didn’t feel safe,” she said. “The anticipation of getting [a new school] was a bit agonizing, but now it’s just a big relief, it’s all over with. And hopefully it will stand up to an earthquake if one happens.”

There are still more than 100 schools across B.C. on the waiting list for seismic upgrades.


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