Monday, April 10, 2017

Metro Vancouver businesses must prepare for big earthquake: expert

Businesses in Greater Vancouver must prepare for a major earthquake, including seismically improving their physical assets, a risk consultant from Los Angeles told a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade business forum on Friday.
Businesses and communities that have not prepared or undertaken the proper building and infrastructure improvements will face devastating economic losses that could last for decades when a major earthquake hits, said Alex Yanev, a principal with EQE Consulting, a pioneering California firm that specializes in risk management in the private and public sectors.
He noted that in 1995 a state-of-the-art port was destroyed in Kobe, Japan following a 6.9 magnitude earthquake, even though Japan is one of the most earthquake-prepared countries in the world.
“They lost their entire market share to Tokyo and other ports in other countries. And that city and that port never recovered. … You can’t allow that scenario to happen here. You can’t afford it,” he told an audience of about 150.
Yanev characterized Greater Vancouver as “arguably” at highest risk from a major earthquake of any city in North America.
In an interview, Yanev said that’s because the earthquake risk has only been recognized recently — 15 years ago or so — and as a result 95 per cent of the buildings were not built with consideration of that risk.
That is unlike cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where seismic upgrades to existing buildings have taken place since the 1980s, though even in those cities more needs to be done, he said.
Canadian scientists have estimated a 30 per cent probability of a major earthquake hitting a populated area in southwestern B.C. within the next 50 years.
That risk comes from the so-called “Big One,” a slippage of tectonic plates of the B.C. coast, but also from shallow and deep earthquakes on land.
A woman searches through the ashes of what once was her neighbourhood in Kobe, Japan, on Jan. 21 1995, in the aftermath of the devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake.
A woman searches through the ashes of what once was her neighbourhood in Kobe, Japan, on Jan. 21 1995, in the aftermath of the devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake. Jonathon Utz / AFP/Getty Images files
Yanev said businesses can be proactive in identifying risks and taking action, including upgrading their buildings and other infrastructure.
But he stressed that governments, including at the state (provincial) level, must help incentivize these upgrades, perhaps with tax relief.
That’s because if some business owners carry out seismic upgrades and others do not, the economic disruption will still be significant, said Yanev.
An investigation by Postmedia News, published in 2016, revealed the City of Vancouver had failed to create a proactive plan to reduce the seismic hazard of the city’s older private buildings despite identifying a need to do so more than two decades ago.
Of more than 1,100 buildings included in a seismic risk assessment by the City of Vancouver in 1994, hundreds appeared to have had no seismic upgrades, the Postmedia News examination also discovered.
Those buildings include brick apartments that provide rooms to the city’s poorest on the Downtown Eastside, but also apartments in the West End, Chinatown and Gastown, and offices in other parts of the downtown.
The B.C. government has acknowledged that upgrading the existing building infrastructure is a concern. However, it has been reluctant to take a leadership role on the issue.
On Friday, Naomi Yamamoto, minister of state for emergency preparedness, in her last speaking engagement before the May 9 election campaign begins said an incentive program in Victoria is a model worth examining.
However, the city tax-incentive program, available exclusively to heritage buildings, has only seen 43 buildings seismically upgraded, an average of three a year.
In introductory remarks, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade vice-president David Crawford said natural disasters including earthquakes and floods would not only cripple businesses and the local economy, but the economy of Canada.
“Twenty per per cent of Canada’s economy goes through Canada’s Pacific Gateway, the infrastructure that culminates in the Port of Vancouver,” said Crawford.
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