There's a similar website in B.C., but the first time I came across it was when I was researching this article.
But probably the most notable difference is New Zealand's system to ensure buildings are up to current seismic standards. Local councils take an active and preventative role to identify earthquake-prone buildings based on national seismic risk and pre-specified criteria such as unreinforced masonry and towers built prior to 1976.
Building owners, engineering firms and local councils work collaboratively to strengthen or demolish buildings that are deemed unsafe.
Now picture the opposite of this: Vancouver. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that tall buildings constructed before 1990 were most at risk in a major earthquake. There's a lot of those in the city, especially in the West End and Downtown Eastside.
The law mandating seismic upgrades in B.C. is unclear. Certain schools and older buildings are regularly being upgraded but the decision seems to be at the discretion of the building owners, unlike New Zealand, where there are clear national building codes and continuous management and identification of earthquake-prone buildings.
As a public health researcher and former registered nurse, I see this as a public health issue that is preventable. Yet little has been done.
The results of The Big One will be catastrophic. There will be acute injuries and deaths from the estimated 150 buildings that will collapse on us. Sewage and water systems could fail. Overcrowding will lead to communicable diseases. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed: regular services will be interrupted, staff won't be able to access facilities and medical supplies could run out.
As with other crises, the hardest hit will likely be the most vulnerable, such as those housed in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Downtown Eastside.
According to the 1994 “Declan study,” 98 of the city's 171 designated SROs were given very poor seismic ratings. Twenty years later, a followup by Postmedia News found most of those buildings had still not been upgraded. And it's not just the DTES. Postmedia's examination discovered hundreds of the city's buildings identified as seismic hazards in 1994 lacked upgrades, effectively putting thousands of people at extreme risk.
If you are now as scared as I am, know that there are things we can do now to minimize our risk. Individually, we can have a plan and emergency equipment.
But most importantly, we can push our city to take concrete steps to retrofit buildings that do not meet current standards — similar to what Los Angeles did. We can use the opportunity of next year's municipal elections to ensure this is a priority.
The lessons from around the world are clear: Act now to protect your citizens and avoid preventable disaster.
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