Posted 28 September 2009 - 08:20 AM
EARTHQUAKE AWARENESS - Few buildings will survive
By Malcolm Curtis
Times Colonist staff
Photos & Times Colonist Illustration
May 10, 1998
B.C.'s legislature will likely collapse if the big one strikes. So too will most of city hall, including council chambers, most of old town's office buildings, the Royal Jubilee Hospital, most schools in the region, most local firehalls and that grand old dame of hospitality - the Empress. "Any building with reinforced masonry is vulnerable to an earthquake," said Doug Koch, Victoria's planning manager.
The city has not done an inventory of which buildings are most at risk. But Koch can only think of a handful of buildings in the city designed to be usable after a major tremor.
These include the new city police building at 850 Caledonia St., and the recently opened James Bay firehall.
In a referendum several years ago, voters rejected plans to seismically upgrade city hall.
And it would take a potful of money to address various other shortcomings in the region, including bridges connecting Esquimalt to the rest of Vancouver Island.
Clive Timms, deputy city engineer, said the city has budgeted $60,000 for design work this year for the earthquake-proofing of Point Ellice Bridge, also known as the Bay Street Bridge. Estimated cost is $1.5 million, with the project identified in the city's five- year capital budget.
But Timms said there's little that can be done for the city's other major span, the Johnson Street road and rail bridge.
"We don't regard it as seismically resistant," he said. "It's such an old bridge . . . we don't think it can be seismically upgraded. In a major earthquake we expect it to be inoperable."
Rick Steele, project manager at B.C. Buildings Corp., said it would take "billions" to upgrade government buildings so they can continue to operate after a quake.
But Steele said some of the major new office buildings meet the building code's latest seismic requirements. These focus on the safety of building occupants rather than whether it will be operable after a major tremor.
The recently renovated St. Ann's Academy "is in excellent shape" along with the Jack Davis, Sussex and Selkirk Waterfront buildings, he said. "That's a fair chunk of our office space."
However, most of the old town buildings are "problematic," along with the parliament buildings, Steele said.
The government has a limited capital budget for upgrading buildings that has to balance economic benefits with costs. And while thousands of workers could be working in potentially unsafe buildings, "we simply couldn't vacate all the buildings downtown."
The Provincial Emergency Program's headquarters, located on Boleskine Road in Saanich, are designed to be completely functional after a quake.
Children could be most at risk in such an emergency, especially if one strikes during school hours.
Carole James, chairwoman of the Greater Victoria school board, said only four of the region's 54 schools are geared for the big one.
In 1994 the province cut off funding for seismic upgrading of schools unless buildings are being renovated for other reasons, said James.
Yet the province has committed millions of dollars for construction to replace portable buildings at overcrowded schools.
Seismic upgrading of schools is a "really big issue" in Victoria, since it is located in one of the most earthquake-prone areas in Canada, said James.
"We have some of the oldest schools in the province but we don't have the overcrowding that other schools have."
Sir James Douglas is one of the few schools to be rebuilt with quakes in mind. Other seismically fit schools include Strawberry Vale, Rogers and Lampson.
Ironically, experts say home may be the safest place to be in a quake, especially if you live in a wood-frame house built on solid rock.
The Energy Ministry's geological survey branch is developing a map to show the most hazardous areas in the Greater Victoria area during an earthquake.
Branch geologist Vic Levson said the map should be ready this summer. A rough outline of the situation in Victoria shows much of the city is located in areas where the hazards are high.
Large sections of the city around the harbor are built on fill. Elsewhere, residential areas are built on peat or thick layers of clay.
Buildings have a high likelihood of collapsing in such areas but the risk depends on the way the building or structure has been engineered, Levson said.
"Beaver, ahoy!""The bridge is like a magnet, attracting both pedestrians and over 30,000 vehicles daily who enjoy the views of Victoria's harbour. The skyline may change, but "Big Blue" as some call it, will always be there."
-City of Victoria website, 2009