Hugely destructive tremors in Japan and New Zealand have got politicians and city staff in Vancouver taking a hard look at the ability of the community to survive a similar earthquake.

Staff have briefed Vancouver city council — and at least some of the report was reassuring.

Fires are a major concern following earthquakes and firefighters are frequently hampered by broken water lines.

Council heard there is a separate $51-million water system with mains made from hardened steel designed to withstand major tremors.

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This room contains part of Vancouver's reinforced steel backup water system. ((CBC))

The water would be pumped by massive diesel engines from a building near David Lam Park in downtown Vancouver.

If the fresh water system was destroyed, the standby system would pump in salt water from False Creek.

"I'm confident we are ready," said Ron Hay, the city's engineering department. "This station is well maintained and ready to operate if need be."

Bridges reinforced

Vancouver's bridges are vital transportation links and much work has already been done to upgrade their seismic tolerance, said deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston.

"We wanted you to see that multiple departments [are] working together, collaborating, to ensure that we are ready," Johnston told council.

The Grandview viaduct is being reinforced, following $14-million worth of upgrades to the Granville and Burrard Bridges, Johnston said.

He also said the city's search and rescue team has been increased to 99 members from 65.

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The Grandview Viaduct is currently getting a seismic upgrade. ((CBC))

The team's $3 million in food, tools and rescue equipment will soon be moved from shipping containers into a new building, which is part of a facility where the team can practice extricating people from crushed cars and collapsed slabs of concrete.

One major problem, however, is Vancouver city hall itself. The 12-storey building, completed in 1929, is at high risk of collapse, even in a moderate earthquake.

There is also no up-to-date inventory of the thousands of residential buildings in the city that may need to be retrofitted.

With files from the CBC's Kirk Williams