Earthquake could be tragic for BC students

Laura Second Elementary School, currently being upgraded to meet seismic safety standards

“Where school upgrades stand today, if we were to have a serious earthquake it could potentially be tragic,” Patty Bacchus, Chairperson of the Vancouver Board of Education said today. "The province needs to step up with its funding to complete the school upgrades by 2020," she added.

“One of the biggest dangers is falling debris, people trying to exit or evacuate, and the biggest risk is something falling on them. The general training is to get under a table or get under a desk. There are regular drills, but specific training and teams are also put in place. If there are students trapped or unaccounted for, there are plans in place for how staff will respond. That wasn’t the case a couple years ago.”

Shortly after the tsunami and earthquake devastation in Japan, Mike Lombardi tweeted: “Memo to Premier Designate Clark: Accelerate timetable for seismic upgrading of BC schools.” Lombardi is a trustee on the Vancouver Board of Education, a public education advocate, and an education consultant.

Concern for building safety in our local schools is nothing new. The Vancouver School Board expressed worry earlier this year that students would be at risk in the event of an earthquake, and stated that provincial plans to upgrade local schools is moving too slow, according to a CBC report.

As of late January, only 121 schools had been upgraded to meet earthquake standards. In 2005, the B.C. government proposed to have 750 schools rebuilt by the year 2020.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Lombardi. “What [the earthquake in Japan] shows is that the B.C. government needs to accelerate their timetable and priorities, and this means putting more money into accelerating it. We better be looking for 2015, not 2020.... There is no doubt, it needs to go to the top of the list.”

“Mind you, I’m talking about the schools more than anything because the schools are public places in our communities and they’re places people would expect to gravitate to in the event of something happening in our community such as an earthquake,” Lombardi said.

Addressing the concern of future earthquakes, Lombardi stated, “the majority of our school buildings are over 80 years old and without a seismic upgrade would crumble.”

Laura Secord Elementary school, in particular, is being upgraded right now, with classes being held in portables for the time being. 

“It’s an example of a hundred years ago when building standard’s weren’t there, there wasn’t supervision there, there was a shortage of workers, there are a lot of other schools and other buildings like that. I think we need upgrading in action, you will see that the reality shows the priority of it. The message from the two recent earthquakes is that for the government of B.C., this is a warning bell. It’s time to take out the pencils again and have a look at the priority list, move B.C. schools to the top of the list and accelerate the planning schedule,” Lombardi stated. 

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