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Experts discuss disaster risk management at economic summit

U.S.-based consultants say earthquake and tsunami preparations can be simple and inexpensive

Is Vancouver Island ready for the big one?

U.S.-based risk management consultants presenting at the 2017 State of the Island Economic Summit in Nanaimo Thursday don’t think so, but said being prepared doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

Peter Yanev, founder of EQE Consulting, and Art Ringwald, EQE Consulting partner, discussed the nuts and bolts, literally and figuratively, of how municipalities and private enterprises can be ready beyond buying insurance, and be resilient against the disruption that can be dealt by large-magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis.


The consultants spoke at the summit’s Thursday breakfast and a break-out session where representatives from Island governments and private firms lobbed questions about how to prepare infrastructure, civil and economic services before a major disaster and recover them afterwards.

Yanev, who has spent more than 45 years visiting and studying first-hand major earthquake, tsunami and other disaster sites around the world, estimates Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland are the least-prepared regions for earthquakes in North America.

He said it’s important to acknowledge earthquake risk for the Island is very high and to get prepared by conducting high-level risk assessments of buildings and infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and power substations; develop strategies based on those assessments and then execute the strategies.

When it comes to damage inflicted to structures, the big difference between small- and large-magnitude earthquakes is how long the shaking continues and how resilient structures are against prolonged shaking.

“The duration of a large earthquake is what really causes most of the damage,” Yanev said.

In a mega-thrust earthquake, which the Island region experiences every few hundred years, structures might have to withstand prolonged violent seismic movement and repeated aftershocks as was experienced in Japan in 2011 and Chile in 2010. In those cases, Yanev said the majority of casualties were from tsunamis triggered by the quakes because both countries’ building codes require structures to sustain heavy seismic shaking.

“I think … some analysis should be done of how close you should be to codes used in Japan and Chile,” Yanev said.

Communities and companies can spend huge budgets building resilience through structural upgrades and building tsunami walls, but many techniques for mitigating earthquake damage are cheap and can save millions of dollars in lost property and services.

“Often when considering a strategy, mitigation is seen as too expensive and often disregarded as a viable option and in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of projects, that is simply not true … it can be very reasonable and very cost-effective,” Yanev said.

Yanev and Ringwald cited several such examples. In one incident, a $50-million turbine for generating electrical power was destroyed when its bearings burned out after an earthquake, toppled and smashed a bank of batteries used to supply emergency power to the turbine’s oil pumps. Cost for the bolts to secure the batteries would have been about $100.

Los Angeles lost much of its telephone service in the 1994 Northridge earthquake when several equipment cooling units were toppled and damaged. Had they been simply bolted to the structure they were placed on, telephone service wouldn’t have failed. The estimated cost for the bolts was about $1,600.

“This is an example of a trivial thing causing a huge disruption to the economy,” Ringwald said.




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