Vancouver Special Operations members in rubble

Earthquake Preparedness Strategy

Read about the strategy

View the Earthquake Preparedness Strategy presentation  PDF (3 MB)

We have made significant investments over the past decade to assess earthquake risk, upgrade infrastructure, and develop emergency plans, but more work is required to lessen the impact of an earthquake on the city

In 2013, we developed the Earthquake Preparedness Strategy to better understand the risk and reduce the impact of an earthquake in Vancouver. 

Our progress

The Earthquake Preparedness Strategy identifies 56 actions in the following categories.

Volunteers and community

Building resilience and responding to disasters is a shared responsibility. Individuals, families, businesses, and other organizations have a major role to play in earthquake preparedness, response, and recovery. In previous disasters, such as the Christchurch Earthquake in 2011, formal and informal community groups emerged to save lives, support each other, and work collectively towards recovery.  

Initiatives in place to engage the community in preparedness, response, and recovery

Our goal

A resilient community where individuals, families, businesses, and organizations work together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from earthquakes.

Our progress

Key accomplishments What we are working on What's next
  • Established 25 disaster support hubs around the city as a place for people to meet and connect with organizations that can provide support, including the City, after an earthquake.
  • Updated plans for our key emergency reception and group lodging centres so that we are prepared to provide support to the community after an earthquake.
  • Engaged with the business community to raise awareness and identify options to support small to medium-sized businesses in preparing for emergencies.
  • Developing ongoing training and support resources for the disaster support hubs.
  • Continuing to develop and enhance public education.
  • Updating plans for all emergency reception and group lodging centres. 
  • Developing online and digital tools to raise awareness and support businesses, such as a sample template for small business business continuity plans.
  • Developing a temporary housing plan to ensure short-term housing is available for people displaced following an earthquake.
  • Working with Business Improvement Areas to develop access programs that will help provide temporary access to buildings in cordoned off areas after an earthquake.

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Critical services

Many of us take for granted the critical services we depend on every day. These include services provided day-to-day by our networked utilities such as clean water from the tap, power at the flick of a switch, household toilets, uninterrupted cell service, and clear transit routes, as well as those provided following a disaster such as emergency response coordination and public information. An earthquake could compromise many of these important services with cascading consequences.

During the Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake in 2011, 80% of Christchurch was without power and water and wastewater services were disrupted throughout the city. Christchurch implemented plans to provide temporary services and keep the public informed of restoration and recovery efforts. ‚Äč

Our Earthquake Preparedness Strategy actions aim to improve the resilience of City-owned critical systems to:

  • Minimize damage and associated impacts
  • Develop plans for temporary provision of critical services
  • Ensure staff are trained and equipped to support the overall coordination of emergency response and recovery

Programs, facilities, and plans in place

Water systems

We have invested in our ability to fight fires as quickly and efficiently as possible after an earthquake by creating:

  • A dedicated fire protection system; a $52 million system that will make sure there is a reliable supply of water for fighting fires in high-density areas of downtown, Kitsilano, and Fairview Slopes (We are currently working on improving capacity in the other areas of the city.)
  • Emergency wells for firefighting, which increases our ability to get water for firefighting, by using fire boats to pump water and purchasing above-ground hydrant extension equipment

Sewer systems

  • We are working with the region to to increase the seismic resilience of sewer infrastructure by upgrading it
  • Metro Vancouver  has completed regional plans to upgrade treatment plants 

Energy systems

We have:

  • Worked with BC Hydro to ensure our electrical grid has added redundancy, which means less power outages and a more resilient electrical grid; a legacy of the 2010 Winter Games 
  • Developed Neighbourhood Energy Utility Strategy to help reduce reliance on the electrical grid
  • Developed the Renewable City Strategy to reduce our dependency on energy grids by facilitating the ability for energy to be generated locally and reducing buildings energy requirements

Transportation systems

Over the last few decades we have been working to upgrade the resilience of the road network by:

  • Completing $14 million in bridge seismic upgrades over the past 20 years
  • Developing disaster response routes to facilitate the movement of responders

Communications and information

  • Developed response plans that are reliant on redundant communications methods 
  • Established an emergency communications volunteer organization (VECTOR) to provide auxiliary emergency communications to ourselves and our partners

Training and operations

We conduct regular emergency training and exercises for City staff and key partners so that they are familiar with their role in our emergency plans. To complement training and readiness of City staff, we have trained other teams that are essential to our response and recovery from an event, including:

  • Vancouver Volunteer Corp
  • The Canada Task Force 1 multi-purpose team, which is critical in responding to trapped people in damaged buildings and structures and support a wide range of other disaster response activities

Our goal

To ensure our critical infrastructure is resilient, and we are prepared to coordinate overall response and recovery efforts.

Our progress

Water systems

The water system includes delivering water from the regional distribution system to homes, business, and critical locations such as hospitals and fire hydrants.

Key accomplishments What we are working on What's next
  • Pilot tested the installation of Japanese-made seismically resilient water pipes in high-risk areas of the city.
  • Developing a risk-based strategy to improve key vulnerabilities in the water system.
  • Enhancing access to post-earthquake fire-fighting water supply.
  • Collaborating with health authorities so that critical sites such as hospitals have water service following an event.
  • Developing plans for a large supply of potable water and shower facilities to be made available in the community following an earthquake.

Sewer systems

The sewer system removes excess water and sewage for treatment at one of the regional sewer treatment facilities. We build on the latest environmental studies to collect rainwater and stormwater runoff from buildings, roads, and parking lots to carry into the local waterways, like Burrard Inlet. 

Key accomplishments What we are working on What's next
  • All our sewage pump stations now have back-up power capacity. Some have an on-site generator, while others have hook-ups to connect to a mobile generator.
  • We have a plan in place to respond to the disruption of sewage services after an earthquake
  • Building new pump stations to be  operational post-disaster.
  • Developing long term plan for improving seismic resilience of the system as infrastructure is replaced.
  • Develop plans for a mass provision of alternate toilet facilities.
  • Develop a public notification and beach closure plan in coordination with health authorities to ensure our waterways are closed if they are deemed unhealthy after an earthquake.

Energy systems

Many critical services rely on the consistent provision of energy. We have plans:

  • For backup power at key facilities
  • To encourage the public to consider reducing their dependency on the power grid and use alternate power sources where feasible
Key accomplishments What we are working on What's next
  • Back-up power installed at critical City facilities such as fire halls.
  • Continue to develop back-up power capacity across City facilities, including a review of generator fuelling needs.
  • Enhance training for residents on how to cope with power outages.

Transportation systems

Earthquake preparedness for our transportation system means considering how:

  • To increase the resilience of our transportation network
  • To assess its safety after an earthquake
  • People and response vehicles will move around after an earthquake
Key accomplishments What we are working on
  • Completed downtown transportation emergency response plan with options for moving people off of the downtown peninsula after an earthquake.
  • Developed Bridge Response Plan.
  • Completed bridge post-earthquake inspection guides for major bridges, which will allow for a quick assessment of whether a bridge is safe or should be closed. 
  • A program to train staff to use the bridge post-earthquake inspection guides. 
  • A plan to increase seismic resilience of bridge infrastructure following the completed bridge risk assessment reports. 
  • Completion of a bridge inspection guide for minor bridges that will allow for a quick assessment of whether a bridge is safe or should be closed.

Communications and information

Communications systems and public information is critical following an earthquake. Responders need resilient technical systems in place to coordinate efforts. We need resilient systems to communicate with the public, and the public needs to know what is safe, where emergency services are being provided, and how they can access recovery support. 

Key accomplishments What we are working on
  • Updated our internal communication plan and practice through exercise and training.
  • Added family reunification planning content into Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness workshops to ensure family members know how and where to meet up with other family members following an earthquake.
  • Established a cloud-hosted emergency information website to provide critical information to the public if our primary website goes down.
  • Continue to exercise city-wide and key partner emergency communications as part of annual earthquake drill.

Training and operations

Continuously training staff and volunteers is critical to an effective event response. Staff fill various roles from first responders operating the Emergency Operations Centre to carrying out rapid building damage assessments. We also want to ensure important City functions can continue throughout the response and recovery of an earthquake. 

Key accomplishments What we are working on
  • Developed and implemented staff training and exercises program to ensure staff are ready to respond at the Emergency Operations Centre, Disaster Staging Areas, or to be part of numerous teams around the city, including Canada Task Force 1 and building rapid damage assessment teams.
  • Increased the number of  trained Emergency Operations Centre staff to over 250.
  • Implementing an on-going city-wide emergency training and exercise program.
  • Working with other Canadian cities to support rapid deployment of resources following a disaster.
  • Ensuring business continuity plans are in place for our important business units to keep the city functioning during and after an earthquake.

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Buildings

Our Earthquake Strategy includes actions to reduce the likelihood and consequences of damage to both civic facilities and private buildings:

  • The majority of injuries and deaths in earthquakes are from damage to structural and non-structural components of buildings.
  • Damaged civic facilities can result in reduced emergency response capacity and delays in overall response and recovery operations.
  • Building collapse and damage can significantly delay the recovery of a city, resulting in long-term displacement of residents, businesses, and industry.

Programs, facilities, and plans in place

Civic buildings

  • Built a post-disaster Emergency Operations Centre to coordinate our response to an earthquake.

Private buildings

  • Since the early 1970s, we have mandated seismic upgrades to existing buildings when they are renovated.
  • We were the first and only jurisdiction in Canada to mandate seismic design for one and two family homes in the early 2000s. These are only now being required in the Provincial Building Code. 

Our goal

To reduce the risk of earthquake building damage through the collaboration of scientists, engineers, building developers, building owners, and government.

Our progress

Civic buildings

We own more than 300 buildings and properties. These include buildings providing City services but also leased or rented properties. 

Key accomplishments What we are working on What's next
  • Moved 370 employees from East Wing City Hall to a new building undergoing seismic upgrades.
  • Developed a seismic resilience program for City buildings to prioritize where retrofits should be focused.
  • Assessed 170 buildings for structural seismic safety with 25 more in depth assessments underway on buildings identified as priorities.
  • Conducted 12 non-structural seismic safety studies on prioritized buildings 
  • Reinforced skylights at the Vancouver Police Department building.
  • Continue to screen and study priority buildings while implementing retrofits to improve seismic resilience.

Private buildings

City Council and staff are always working to make Vancouver's homes and buildings safer, healthier, and more accessible for all residents, workers, and visitors. Seismic regulations for new buildings and for renovations are found in the Vancouver Building Bylaw

Key accomplishments What we are working on
  • Disaster staging areas are in place around the city with assessment kits and response supplies to facilitate a rapid damage assessment of buildings after an earthquake.
  • Trained over 130 private sector structural engineers in emergency building damage assessment so they can respond quickly after an earthquake.
  • Trained all City inspectors in emergency building damage assessment so they can assess damaged buildings throughout the city after an earthquake.
  • Establishing a technical committee to advise on options to retrofit high-risk buildings throughout the city.
  • Improving seismic provisions in the Vancouver Building Bylaw.
  • Continuing to improve our post-earthquake assessment rate by continuing to train private sector structural engineers in emergency building damage assessment and City earthquake coordination plans.
  • Continuing to work with provincial agencies on the further development of a coordinated building damage assessment mechanism.

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