Emergency preparedness in B.C. schools after earthquake

Sir Wilfrid Laurier Annex students and staff participate in an earthquake drill last year. Handout Photo.


The recent earthquake off B.C.’s coast has left some Marpole locals wondering if their schools are prepared for a major ground shaker.

“I don’t think Vancouverites are ready at all in general,” said Pauline Imai, a parent whose child attends Winston Churchill Secondary.

Some school buildings don’t appear to be ready for an earthquake

Some 56 Vancouver schools — 42 of which are elementary — require seismic upgrades, according to data released by the B.C. Seismic Mitigation program in September.

Schools requiring upgrades need to be reconstructed or renovated to make them more durable in an earthquake, according to the Education Ministry’s seismic report.

Among those buildings are Sir Winston Churchill Secondary and David Lloyd George elementary, which are rated the highest risk level for structural failure during an earthquake. Churchill needs upgrades to classrooms, its auditorium and gym among others.

Lloyd George requires changes to both the original structure and its newer facilities.

“It’s a great time to remind politicians and leaders about this issue,” Vancouver school trustee, Mike Lombardi said.

He wants the provincial government to give more funding to seismically upgrade schools.

All schools up to date by 2020

The Ministry of Education hopes to complete upgrading all its schools by 2020, but Vancouver still needs more cash for the cause.

Vancouver School Board facilities manager, Ernest Fanthorpe, said the district is trying to meet that deadline, but “whether we will or not will be dependent on funding.”

Fanthorpe was unable to give a funding estimate, but Lombardi said an additional $850 million, which the school board asked for in October, will be necessary to ensure all 56 schools are upgraded.

The board expects a response from the Education Ministry around April next year.

It takes about two years for each school to get renovated or reconstructed Lombardi said.

The ministry was contacted for comment regarding seismic upgrade funding, but failed to respond before press time.

Getting people prepared just as crucial

While building upgrades are one part of preparing for an earthquake, school staff say emergency procedures are important as well.

“We have to go through routines where we can account for everyone [during a disaster],” said Churchill secondary vice-principal John Hunter.

Each school in the Vancouver district holds two earthquake drills a year.

School emergency response teams, are present in schools and undergo a two-day training regimen under the supervision of a Vancouver firefighter, according to Vancouver school board spokesman Kurt Heinrich.

The schools also sport emergency bins, which contain enough food and emergency supplies to sustain students and staff for about 72 hours, said Heinrich.

Reported by Steven Chua

In this podcast, Chua speaks with Pauline Imai about how prepared Vancouverites are for an earthquake.

Pauline Imai — Vancouver not ready for Earthquake

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