British Columbia

8,000 Vancouver buildings vulnerable to quakes

A Vancouver city councillor says it's time to find out specifically which buildings in the city would survive an earthquake, following a decades-old report that suggests thousands of buildings wouldn't.
Vancouver city council has directed staff to create a new inventory of buildings that don't meet the seismic code, the CBC's Kirk Williams reports 2:43

A Vancouver city councillor says it's time to find out specifically which buildings in the city would survive an earthquake, following a decades-old report that suggests thousands of buildings wouldn't.

"If you're a tenant in a building or a condo owner, you should be able to find out if that building is built to good seismic standards," Coun. Suzanne Anton told CBC News on Thursday.

Vancouver's building code now has the toughest seismic provisions in Canada, but the new standards apply only to buildings constructed in the last 10 years.

Prior to that, the city contracted engineers at Delcan Corp. in the 1990s to find out how many buildings were prone to serious damage and posed a danger to occupants in the event of a big earthquake.

The study concluded there were 8,000 buildings — including city hall — that were at risk of "catastrophic damage," most of them built before 1975.

Those buildings housed more than 158,000 people.

City staff reported to council following the report that the vulnerable buildings presented an "unacceptable level of risk," and compared to quake-prone cities in California, Vancouver had a "very high exposure level both in terms of life safety and property damage."

Long-term project

But the study was not specific enough to release details on individual buildings.

Recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand have generated demands that a new building inventory be created.

At least 8,000 Vancouver buildings are at risk of 'catstrophic damage' in an earthquake, a report says. ((CBC) )
Council has directed city staff to get started on the project, but it could take time. A similar effort in Los Angeles, which began in 1984, took more than 20 years to complete.

Anton said that the imperative to identify buildings that need upgrading might clash with other policies, like protecting inexpensive rental housing from demolition.

"We have had such an emphasis on keeping affordable housing and rental housing," said Anton. "It's been very discouraging to landlords."

Building owners may not spend on seismic upgrades if they can't increase rents enough to pay for them, she said.

A detailed inventory can also potentially so discourage tenants or owners that they refuse to occupy or maintain risky buildings, leaving them derelict.

With files from the CBC's Kirk Williams