BC schools and school children at risk

After the event that killed thousands, injured tens of thousands and affected millions of Nepalese, a Berkeley seismologist spoke about preparations needed in regions with high seismic activity. Dr. Peggy Hellweg said:

Probably the most important factor in building collapses is the construction of the building, the structure. In general all buildings constructed in an old style, which is stone on stone; or stone, mortar and stone; are very, very susceptible to earthquakes.

Ten years ago, the BC’s provincial budget made this unequivocal commitment:

  • “Funding is also provided to seismically upgrade all at-risk schools within 15 years.”

However, like many other Liberal promises, the words proved decidedly hollow. After years of administrative shuffling that delayed work on many high-risk schools, government recently announced a new completion target for seismic upgrades in schools. It is now 2030, or 2040, or some time afterward, depending on whether or not BC Place needs another new roof or if Site C and the LNG fantasies prove to be as costly as we fear.

Will there be a major earthquake that damages Canada’s westcoast? Of course. Scientists may be unsure of the exact time or place but geological evidence shows that over time, it is a certainty. From Natural Resources Canada:

Offshore Region

From northern Vancouver Island, to the Queen Charlotte Islands, the oceanic Pacific plate is sliding to the northwest at about 6 cm/year relative to North America. The boundary between these two giant plates is the Queen Charlotte fault – Canada’s equivalent of the San Andreas fault. Canada’s largest historical earthquake- a magnitude 8.1, occurred along this fault on August 22, 1949. This earthquake, larger than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, caused nearly a 500-km-long segment of the Queen Charlotte fault to break.

Cascadia Subduction Zone

West of Vancouver Island, and extending from the north tip of the Island to northern California, the oceanic Juan de Fuca plate is moving towards North America at about 2-5 cm/year. This region is called the Cascadia subduction zone. Here, the much smaller Juan de Fuca plate is sliding (subducting) beneath the continent (it is about 45 km beneath Victoria, and about 70 km beneath Vancouver). The ocean plate is not always moving though. There is good evidence that the Juan de Fuca and North America plates are currently locked together, causing strain to build up in the earth’s crust. It is this squeezing of the crust that causes the 300 or so small earthquakes that are located in southwestern British Columbia each year, and the less-frequent (once per decade, on average, damaging crustal earthquakes (e.g., a magnitude 7.3 earthquake on central Vancouver Island in 1946). At some time in the future, these plates will snap loose, generating a huge offshore “subduction” earthquake – one similar to the 1964 M=9.2 Alaska earthquake, or the 1960 M=9.5 Chile earthquake. Current crustal deformation measurements in this area provide evidence for this model. Geological evidence also indicates that huge subduction earthquakes have struck this coast every 300-800 years.

The last truly major event on Canada’s west coast was in January 1700, when a Cascadia subduction quake of estimated magnitude 9.0 caused widespread damage and a tsunami that reached Japan. However, experts predict an earthquake in the 6.5 to 7.5 range could strike at any time in southwest BC. This map prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey shows the areas most at risk from a significant seismic event in BC and Washington State. In 2001, the Nisqually earthquake in Puget Sound measured 6.8 and caused an estimated $2 billion in damages.

It is worth noting that the area of highest risk touches southern Vancouver Island where numerous schools are rated vulnerable to earthquake damage. Metro Vancouver, the location of most schools in need of modification or replacement, is assigned moderate risk of experiencing a significant earthquake by 2024.

Categories: Education, Environment

4 replies »

  1. Thanks, Norm. It's troubling to realize some of my kids' schools in Vancouver are on this list. I had assumed they had been reinforced years ago but that was obviously wishful thinking.


  2. The stalling tactics by the BC Liberals on seismology upgrades to the public schools is directly linked to the value of the property that they sit upon. Lost revenue in property taxes with the answer being the dropping number of students on the east side of Vancouver which will be increasing once St. Paul's is completed. On the North Shore Queen Mary Elementary school property footprint was cut in half with the east side being transformed into condos and bankrolling the new School Board office on Upper Lonsdale.

    During the debate on the .05% Translink tax there is the oft quoted line of “one million more people will live and work in Metro Vancouver by 2040”. Where are the Public Schools going to be for those newcomers, or is the plan to privatize the whole system?


  3. B.C. has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada and has had almost every year since the lieberals came to office. This is just a continued e.g. of how much the B.C. Lieberals don't care whether children in B.C. live or die, as long as their friends get their jobs and contracts and profits.

    Norm, I do recall you writing some time ago how much the B.C. Lieberals still had to pay out to mining companies. Guess they are more important than those children in schools.

    If we had an earthquake during school hours thousands of children in this province would die and/or be seriously injured. Does the photo op queen care? Obviously not and neither do the parents of these children, because they put the photo op queen and her party into office again. Not a smart move. So if we have an earthquake it will be very unfortunate for the children, but the parents, will have only themselves to blame. I'm sure the photo op queen will be out their with a shovel looking concerned. I'd have her arrested for child neglect.


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