That a megathrust earthquake will hit Vancouver is not a question of if, but when. Is the city prepared for such an incident? In partnership with the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Public Library, UBC’s Earthquake Day (Oct. 15) brings together researchers and professionals to look for answers, raise awareness, and get ourselves ready. 

Dorian Tung, PhD Candidate in Civil Engineering, UBC

Recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand have devastated their cities. Affected by a similar seismic reality, Vancouverites want to know if Vancouver is ready for such an event. The fact that the public is asking this question has positive implications: it means that the research and engineering communities are doing their jobs with respect to education and communication.

People are gradually accepting the reality that the big one is only a matter of time. The public and private sectors are seeking ways to get ready. In the event of a severe ground shaking in Vancouver, there will be damages and casualties. Social and financial losses are unavoidable.

So what can we do to prepare ourselves, and our city? There are diverse deeply-engaged earthquake groups in the province that work tirelessly towards an earthquake resilient community. Researchers and professionals recognize that earthquake risks can only be mitigated using a multidisciplinary approach.

With that goal in mind, UBC has partnered with the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Public Library to create Earthquake Day (in conjunction with the ShakeOut BC Day). On October 15, all contributors to earthquake risk mitigation will have the opportunity to network and establish interdisciplinary collaboration that will contribute to Vancouver’s preparedness to the big one. Join us at the Vancouver Public Library to be a part of the conversation - and the solution!

What is it to be ready?

To be ready is not only about being able to respond, but perhaps more importantly, it means that Vancouver needs to be earthquake resilient. A resilient community starts with resilient structures. The building code and design communities are shifting their approach to structural design away from damage-based to damage-free. 

The research community is responding to this shift by developing new design procedures and protection technologies that minimize business downtime. The change in structural design approach will expedite Vancouver’s recovery and allow it to quickly resume function in the aftermath of earthquake.

How is the City Preparing?

The City of Vancouver started in 1990 to assess its seismic risks, develop risk reduction strategies, and prepare response and recovery plans. In 2014, it has further developed the earthquake preparedness strategy where 12 primary actions and 44 supporting actions are identified.

The Ministry of Education has been working with the Department of Civil Engineering at UBC since 2004 to develop and implement a seismic upgrade program for schools in the Province of British Columbia. This includes seismic assessment tools and performance-based retrofits of school buildings.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, moreover, has collaborated with the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility at UBC to develop an earthquake early-warning system. This system has been proven to be functional and could provide warning more than 30 seconds prior to a major earthquake.

With governmental and social initiatives such as these, Vancouver is definitely on the right track to being ready. Yet there are always more people to reach, and more channels to employ to raise public awareness.

To learn more about what you can do to prepare and help the city, Earthquake Day awaits the residents of Vancouver.

Dorian Tung is the executive producer of a documentary made to give an overview of the past, present, and future earthquake engineering at UBC. This documentary is funded by the UBC Centennial Initiatives Fund.