Gordon Hoekstra’s article in the February 2nd Vancouver Sun entitled: “U.S. expert warns B.C. of potential earthquake risk to wood-frame homes” would lead many to believe that British Columbia’s wood-frame housing stock is at significant risk of collapsing into the Pacific. In this article, Peter Yanev, founder of EQE Consulting, states: “…unprecedented destruction of wood-frame buildings (Japanese 2016 earthquake) called into question many of the assumptions and modelling in the insurance and other industries.”
The article’s eye-catching title serves its purpose, but does no factual favours to the reader. Here are the omitted facts:
The first would acknowledge that, despite Mr. Yanev’s claims, two important Japanese surveys were carried out following the 2016 magnitude 7.3 Kumamoto quake and the historic 2011 magnitude 9.0 Tohoku quake and that of the more than 24,000 modern wood-frame residences surveyed, more than 94% suffered little to no damage. In fact, the Japanese Ministry of Infrastructure, Land and Transport (MLIT) commissioned post-mortem studies and concluded that no amendments to current codes were required.
The second point would speak to the excellence of the Canadian and BC Building Code development systems. They are expert developed and evidence and science based. The model National Building Code development process includes a Standing Committee on Earthquake Design – a committee whose sole function is to consider the research and examples from around the world.
The final part of this story would deal with how updated Code work has informed jurisdictions across Canada, as to needed updates, to pre-code change building stock. This is witnessed, in particular, in BC where hundreds of institutional buildings have been updated to ensure the health and safety of the occupants, as well as the structural performance of these buildings.
The wood products industry, via the Canadian Wood Council (in Canada) and Canada Wood (offshore), takes pride in its expert contributions in the area of code development. It is because of this work that Canadian wood-framed 5- and 6-storey mid-rise buildings are state of the art when it comes to seismic performance and that even taller mass timber buildings are garnering interest from the design & construction community.
Are the codes moving fast enough to avoid a future earthquake based calamity in BC or anywhere else in Canada? Good question, but should such an event occur, most people would agree that it is much safer to live in a light-wood framed house or building than in any other type.