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Earthquake survival: How to face the big one

The Story

Saving lives is the object of this scientific experiment. Under the watchful eye of a civil engineer, a small-scale architectural model sits on a whirring, spinning table. It is rapidly tilted, bounced and shaken. UBC professor Don Anderson explains this process of testing and constructing earthquake-resistant buildings in this CBC Radio documentary. Erecting sound and sturdy buildings is a high priority for Canada's West Coast; geophysicists have long speculated that Vancouver is overdue for a major earthquake.A city built on bedrock, Vancouver's architecture is a mix of old and new. Clusters of older apartments are situated along English Bay; a series of glass skyscrapers rise from the downtown core. In 1965, the national building code was rewritten to account for the possibility of earthquakes. Engineers accordingly expect modern buildings to hold up relatively well. But experts are less sure how the older buildings will fare -- will they stand, shift or collapse altogether? 

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Sept. 29, 1985
Guest(s): Don Anderson, Bogue Babicki, Mel Blaney, Adam Geraghty, David Vogt
Host: Barbara Smith
Reporter: Phil Menger
Duration: 7:42

Did You know?

• In 2004, UBC professor Peter Byrne analyzed British Columbia's landscape in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. Byrne said that while many buildings may withstand an earthquake, the real problem will be a lack of infrastructure. "I've been saying for 10 years that in Richmond and Delta the soil will liquefy. The buildings might be okay. The problem is they won't have any services. BC Hydro knows that they can't get in. Lifelines going there would be interrupted. How do you get a quarter of a million people out of there?" Byrne explained.

• In 2001, researchers at UBC conducted an earthquake simulation. Under the command of Carlos Ventura, director of the earthquake engineering research facility, researchers constructed a typical Vancouver-style house on a steel apparatus. The house wasn't reinforced with earthquake-proofed bolts, boards and foundation. The steel base shook the model, replicating a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. The house sustained structural damage and Ventura estimated that aftershocks might level the house completely. Ventura gave the house failing marks for structural soundness and encouraged the government to critically reappraise building codes.

• Vancouver's Granville Bridge and the Queensborough Bridge have been reinforced with rubber pads to absorb ground vibrations. The piers and steel trusses have also been strengthened. A water reservoir in Burnaby has also been shock-proofed. UBC has also conducted structural upgrades to its buildings.

• As of 2001, city building inspectors deemed between 500 and 800 buildings in Vancouver high-risk and very susceptible to earthquake damage. Many of these older buildings are concentrated in Gastown, the Downtown Eastside, the older sections of Granville Street, Broadway and Kingsway. Vancouver's schools, many of which were built before 1950, were also deemed moderate and high risk.

• The greatest danger to humans in an earthquake is from falling objects. Natural Resources Canada advises people caught in one to:
- Stay calm. If indoors, stay there. Go under something sturdy, such as a desk, a bed, a table or a doorframe, and hold on.
- If outdoors, stay there and keep away from power lines and buildings. If in a vehicle, stay there and park away from buildings, bridges and overpasses.


Canada's Earthquakes and Tsunamis more