More than buildings will crumble in the wake of the ‘Big One,’ warns local experts. (Stock photo)

Be Prepared: Economic threat very real post disaster

Black Press Media takes a look at emergency preparedness in Greater Victoria in this special report

This is part two of a special eight-part report done by Black Press Media on emergency preparedness in Greater Victoria. Find the entire series online at vicnews.com/tag/greater-victoria-emergency-preparedness or in this week’s print editions.

Buildings are crumbling, there is no access to power or water, telecommunications are down, transportation infrastructure is unusable, fires are starting, and a giant wave is rushing towards land.

While it seems extreme, it’s all possible in Greater Victoria if a major earthquake hits.

But if enough is done to mitigate risks beforehand – and residents, as well as, businesses and institutions are prepared –the after-effects could be manageable.

“It really depends on how major the earthquake is, where it is and how much damage it does,” said John Knappett, CEO of Knappett Projects Inc. “The worst-case scenario does devastating damage … I don’t like to get too frightful but it’s terrible.”

John Knappett, CEO of Knappett Projects Inc., says if a major earthquake hits, much of downtown Victoria will become uninhabitable for years. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Knappett Projects Inc. is a major B.C. construction organization and Knappett himself has more than 30 years of experience working in the construction industry on transportation infrastructure, institutional buildings, homes, hospitals, water and wastewater treatment facilities, and even with BC Hydro.

READ ALSO: Are you ready for the Big One?

If a major earthquake hits, Knappett said Victoria’s downtown will be uninhabitable for years, noting the B.C. Parliament Buildings, as well as other heritage buildings, will crumble. Schools, many of which are still undergoing seismic upgrades, will also fall. Utilities in the ground such as water and sewage pipes will become unusable so even if a building withstands the earthquake, it won’t be suitable for use.

“It’s not like you wait for the shaking to finish, you go back in your building and then use the toilet,” Knappett said. “Nothing works anymore in the worst-case scenario.”

In addition to utilities, the power supply to the Island will also be affected, Knappett explained. The Island gets much of its power supply through two underwater BC Hydro cables that run through the Strait of Georgia. There’s a possibility those might be damaged during a major quake. Other power sources such as the dam in Jordan River and the BC Hydro facility in Campbell River will not be usable.

“Think about the consequences for hospitals and senior homes,” Knappett added.

Once the earthquake has done its damage, the ability for the Island to rebuild is also a concern.

READ ALSO: Legislature waits for school seismic upgrades

Bruce Williams, interim CEO of the South Island Prosperity Partnership, said the biggest impacts of a major earthquake will be human – how many people will die or be injured – and what will happen to the infrastructure and economy.

The biggest risk to the Island’s economy post-earthquake is that it may never return, according to Bruce Williams, interim CEO of the South Island Prosperity Partnership. (Contributed by Bruce Williams)

“What it comes down to is how severe is it and how long will it take to recover,” Williams said.

With the collapse of government buildings, the only way to continue is for the government to relocate, Williams added. With damage to transportation infrastructure, commerce will halt and with telecommunications resources possibly damaged, companies may also decide not to rebuild on the Island.

“The biggest risk to the economy is that it never comes back,” Williams said.

While post-earthquake recovery will provide a boon to jobs and workers, Williams called it a “false economy,” something that will only last until the recovery period is over.

READ ALSO: School district braces for mega earthquake

Despite these grim possibilities, both Williams and Knappett said much can be done before a major earthquake to boost the economy and ensure people are prepared.

“How can we seismically upgrade our economy and our infrastructure now, so that whenever [the earthquake] does happen we mitigate the risk of damage?” Williams asked. “It would be a huge economic boom right now for this region to start undertaking seismic upgrades but the amount of money it takes would be probably in the hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Organizations such as the Victoria Civic Heritage Trust offer grants to help with upgrades and restorations to heritage buildings.

As time progresses, Knappett said buildings continue to improve. “Hopefully it doesn’t come for 50 years and all our infrastructure has hardened by then.”

Pick up your Be Ready guide at Black Press newspaper offices or find it online at vicnews.com/e-editions.

READ MORE: Special Report: Be prepared

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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