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LETTER: Greater Victoria housing can’t come at the cost of seismic safety

Damage from an earthquake that hit the Washington Federal Savings building in Olympia on Feb. 28, 2001. (Bruce Kelman / AP)

As earthquake scientists we feel compelled to respond to Darren Gilby’s letter published in the Nov. 29 Saanich News, suggesting that we bypass seismic building codes to reduce costs and increase speed of new affordable housing construction.

In cities facing seismic hazards around the world, low-income people are disproportionately at risk of death and displacement in earthquakes and his suggestion will only perpetuate that inequality. Mr. Gilby claims that he doesn’t “suggest we should risk people’s lives in substandard construction,” but that is in fact exactly what he is suggesting.

In earthquakes, it is not the shaking that kills, rather, it is building collapse. One only needs to look to the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey to see how poorly enforced building codes lead to much higher mortality than we might expect in a similar magnitude event here in Canada. With the present scientific evidence, we do not know whether the next big earthquake will strike the West Coast tomorrow, within decades, or within centuries. We do know, however, based on occurrence rates of past earthquakes, that there is approximately a 48% chance of structurally damaging shaking in Victoria in the next 100 years (Seeman et al 2011).

To suggest that we build stop-gap substandard affordable housing is gambling with people’s lives, not just their housing situation. If we are going to build affordable housing, we must do it right, rather than building new death traps to replace old death traps.

Theron Finley & Madison Bombardier

UVic Earthquakes Research Group