12/30/2011 09:57 EST | Updated 02/29/2012 05:12 EST

Earthquake-proofing needed for Ottawa schools

Ottawa's older schools are not prepared for an earthquake, according to two Ottawa engineers who say structural upgrading is needed to prevent the possibility of significant damage.

Murat Saatcioglu, the University of Ottawa research chair in earthquake engineering, said many of Ottawa's public buildings are full of "substandard reinforced concrete frames" designed to a 1963 building code.

It is highly likely, he added, there would be significant damage for schools that sit on Leda clay, which increases shaking during a strong earthquake.

Orleans is one area of the city that sits on pools of Leda clay.

Saatcioglu said the buildings, including many schools, need to upgrade from the current steel framing. He said a twin column frame wrapped in carbon-fibre would eliminate crucial breaking points in the various structures.

"This material has fibres that are 10 times stronger than steel when they are pulled in their longitudinal direction," he said, adding he hopes schools will start the upgrading.

"Those buildings need to be assessed and, if necessary, retrofitted for seismic resistance."

Vancouver school board readying for earthquake

Cities like Vancouver are more prepared for a large earthquake. Even though the building code does not require upgrades, structural engineer Dan Carson said school boards in Vancouver have made a decision to upgrade the buildings to withstand an earthquake.

Both Carson and Saatcioglu say a building's heritage value often dictates whether it gets an expensive seismic treatment.

"The building code does not retroactively require anything to be done to existing buildings," Carson said.

Carson designed the seismic retrofit at Ottawa's Museum of Nature as part of a $200-million renovation. The downtown museum sits on a small pool of Leda clay, which makes it vulnerable to more intense shaking.

He insists all old buildings need to prepare for a natural disaster. That is an increased concern, experts say, because Ottawa is threatened by the prospect of a large earthquake in its near future.