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How would Vancouver perform in an earthquake?

March 11th, 2011 · 58 Comments

Watching the non-stop news on Japan and thinking of the earthquake in Christchurch, you have to wonder what exactly would happen in Vancouver if there were a similar earthquake.

The tsunami rolling through the Sendai airport made me wonder about our airport. The stories of buildings pancaking in Christchurch made me think about how buildings in Vancouver might do.

Do we have the kinds of protections in place that Japan does, as outlined in this NYT story?

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  • spartikus


    Funny, some think the windmills of Holland charming.

    The privately built windmill on Grouse – the “Eye of the Wind” – provides electricity for the Grouse resort. It also has a viewing platform, for those value-added tourist dollars.

    We tend to build industry and commerce without thought to “aesthetics”. Why start now? Doesn’t having a ski resort and it’s blazing night lighting itself detract from the mountain’s natural state?

    Wind factoid: 7% of Germany’s electricity comes from wind power.

  • @Roger:

    not sure if you didn’t read Lewis’ original comment but my remarks were in response to his suggestion that a wind turbine be built on the lee side of a mountain (w/r/t prevailing winds). That strikes me as an inefficient use of energy and materials.

  • Max

    FYI – re: wind turbines

    A British Columbia first nation is partnering with Surrey-based Endurance Wind Power to market wind turbines to aboriginal communities across Canada and the U.S.

    The North Vancouver-based Tsleil-Waututh Nation, formerly known as the Burrard Band, has made a $2-million equity investment in Endurance. It will be used to fund research and development into areas such as turbine/solar panel combinations for smaller scale use, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Justin George said in an interview Thursday at a first nations alternative energy conference in Vancouver.

    At the same time, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, one of the four host nations of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, has created a wholly owned company, TWN Wind Power, which will distribute Endurance’s community-based wind turbines in aboriginal markets.

    “The essence of this partnership is we’ve identified a new market potential through our relationships with first nations,” George said. “A lot of first nations are running diesel and diesel is on average 10 times the cost of being on the BC Hydro grid,” he added, noting the environmental benefits of wind turbine power over diesel.

    Read more:

  • gmgw

    @Spartikus #51:
    You’re about two hundred years out of date. It’s an act of anachronistic foolishness to cite the aesthetically pleasing windmills of Holland as examples of the visible impact of wind power. There is a growing recognition that modern wind turbines can have an enormously negative impact, not only on the landscape, but on those living nearby. I refer you to a superb documentary entitled “Windfall”, shown at the 2010 VIFF, which chronicles the struggle of one rural upstate New York community to come to terms with a wind farm erected nearby. I don’t think it’s on DVD yet, but you might want to check the film’s website at windfallthemovie dot com and peruse the links. Anyone who thinks that wind power represents some ideally green solution to our energy needs will have his/her eyes opened by this doc. I found it astonishing and disturbing. And lest you think that this film was secretly financed by the nuclear power industry or some such, let me assure you that it’s as “fair and balanced” as can be, and its creators all have impeccably liberal credentials (the wind power company in question is financed by one of the biggest investment houses in New York. There’s a lot of money to be made in the wind industry, it appears). You may think that having a three-hundred-foot tower just up the road, with hundred-foot blades revolving 24/7, is a small price to pay for saving the environment. Guess again.

  • zwiesystem

    @ Lewis N. Villegas

    The elevated SkyTrain Expo and Millennium Line are designed to with stand an average “6” earthquake, the problem is what is average?

    The cut and cover Canada Line would also be in jeopardy ands bored tunnels fare much better than cut-and-cover.

    As one expert South of the boarder said, it takes only one portion of the viaduct to slip off its bearings and the system will be down for 6 to 8 weeks.

    The real problem with just a “7” earthquake in Vancouver would be:
    1) Older brick buildings collapsing.
    2) Elevated structures such as SkyTrain and/or highway over passes collapsing.
    3) Liquefaction in Richmond, Delta, and South Burnaby/New Westminster.
    4) Glass from Skyscraper.Apt. buildings falling onto the street.

    If the quake happened at 3 PM, casualties could be 200% to 300% higher than if it happened at 3AM.

  • spartikus

    Well gee, far be from anybody in the blogosphere to take an off-hand comment about the aesthetics of windmills in response to a comment about the aesthetics of windmills and twist it in to something not intended. For example, it seems the wind farm in the documentary Windfall is actually in the town, something which I don’t remember advocating. I also don’t remember saying wind was a panacea.

    The Eye of the Wind is not in the city. It’s a tourist attraction, and helps a private business with it’s electric bills. It’s far away from homes so no one will stay awake at night from the noise of the turbines. I don’t think any one in North Vancouver will be affected by rotating shadows as they are in the town in Windfall. Personally, I have to squint to see it from Vancouver with the naked eye, so my personal sense of aesthetics are not disturbed.

    As with most things in life, it’s all in the execution. Windfall seems to be about a poorly designed project.

    I do get more than a bit frustrated by people who nay-say any alternative form of energy. Hydro? The fish could die! Tidal? The fish could die! Solar? It’ll blind you! Even geothermal has it’s critics apparently. And heaven forbid you can make money at it!

    So coal, oil and nuclear it is then. We’ll all die in the embrace of the devil we know.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Multiple view points looking at the same (wind mill) will produce an aggregate of opinions worth sifting through—if we can only remember to keep our better natures about us.

    So we agree. The location of “wind farms” is important.

    “The elevated SkyTrain Expo and Millennium Line are designed to with stand an average “6″ earthquake, the problem is what is average?”

    zweiesystem 55

    That correlates nicely with today’s interview on CBC AM with a Berkley professor emeritus. His point: we design to a limit. And, when natural events exceed that limit… well, I leave it to each individual to complete the sentence.

    One way or another we are “screwed”. Raising the limit means incurring additional costs. And, building nuclear as Toyotas rather than Bentleys means that we are certain to pay the price at some undermined point down the line.

    So, we have a reason to separate public infrastructure from private development. The former must stand the test of time; while the latter need only return a short term profit to its investors.

    The report from the markets was also worth noting. The GDP in Japan is due to exceed expectations, after the NIKEI lost some 15% to date. Reason? Investments in rebuilding infrastructure.

    When public capital is spent on building infrastructure, a positive effect permeates the local economy. Wonder we don’t’ bottle that.

    Now for the ‘REAL’ question: Do we agree? Is there a role for government that the private sector is ill equipped to handle?

  • Michael

    As I stated in my letter to the Sun, printed March 15, there are a number of questions we need to be asking our civic officials. Rather than reiterate them, you can read the letter (

    What I should have added is that any expectation that we will be taken care of by emergency relief services is wishful thinking, at least in the first two or three days after a quake. I’ve asked friends and colleagues if they have any kind of earthquake kit and the answer is no, they don’t want to think about it! So if you are one of those–perhaps you should think about it, and get one together. It isn’t difficult. And no, it’s not going to solve any long-term problems, or keep you going for several days, but just having one or two of these around will get you through 48 hours, at which point you can figure out where to go for more support if your home is damaged and you cannot re-enter it. Living in highrises, we may think they are earthquake resistant, but it’s only to a specific building standard–and earthquakes are no respecters of numbers: if your building can withstand a 7.0, will it withstand a 7.2–which is a DOUBLING of the energy of the 7.0 trembler…