City encouraging seismic upgrades in case of ‘the big one’

It's a staff report that Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe found scary to read.

It’s a staff report that Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe found scary to read.

As she read through the City Wide Seismic Vulnerabilities Assessment study, Thornton-Joe began highlighting important points. By the time she finished reading the study, she had highlighted most if it.

The study found approximately 30 per cent of building stock within the city has a greater than five per cent probability of being completely damaged in the event of a massive earthquake in the next 50 years.

“It was an awakening and reminder that we’re in a seismic area. It’s not about if it (a big earthquake) is going to happen, it’s when,” Thornton-Joe said during a meeting Thursday.

Victoria is located within a seismically-active region where one of three types of earthquakes could occur — a shallow crustal earthquakes caused by the rupture of faults within the North American plate; an inslab, triggered by fault ruptures deeper underground; or an interface/subduction earthquake where one tectonic plate slips beneath the other and generates high levels of ground shaking.

Should a massive earthquake hit, the most vulnerable buildings in the city are those that were built before 1972 (approximately 80 per cent of the city’s building stock was built before 1972), three to four-storey wood apartment buildings, single-family wood homes built before 1960 and unreinforced masonry buildings, according to the report.

Wood-frame and concrete buildings on the south east and south west side of the city, including significant portions of James Bay, Fairfield, Gonzales, Burnside, Hillside-Quadra and Oaklands, which are located on soft soils, could also be vulnerable to damage.

When it comes to city infrastructure, the study found the water infrastructure would hold up, however the sanitary sewer pipes could potentially take a hit.

Currently, the City of Victoria offers a tax incentive program. As part of the program, developers who seismically upgrade privately-owned, heritage-designated properties in the downtown core receive a 10-year municipal property tax exemption.  So far, 43 buildings have been upgraded as part of the program.

In response to the report, council voted to expand the scope of the program to include eligible heritage buildings across the city as well.

Coun. Geoff Young said seismically upgrading buildings will “be a painful one,” but one that is necessary before the “Big One” hits.