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A Vancouver elementary school is shown in an artist's rendering. (UBC)

An artist's rendering shows what a Vancouver elementary school might look like after a major earthquake.

The school isn't named in the rendering, but those familiar with Vancouver's schools will recognize it as Lord Tennyson Elementary. Its red walls are cracked. Its roof is collapsed. Its windows are broken and piles of rubble block part of the first floor from view.

The century-old building is one of several in Vancouver flagged as needing seismic upgrades. In this case, the province opted to build a new school entirely, a project which is still under construction according to a status report from the Ministry of Education posted last month

The $24.5-million demolition and rebuild is estimated to be completed by the spring

The illustration released Monday is hypothetical, and was part of an experiment from seismic engineers and psychologists at the University of British Columbia.

The team from UBC worked with an artist to create the image, then tested whether it was more effective than statistics at helping the public understand the risks associated with earthquakes.

PhD student and lead author Iris Lok said the idea was sparked by her thesis advisor, who said she was alarmed when enrolling her own son at how many kindergarten students would be attending B.C. schools in need of urgent seismic upgrades.

"We wanted to figure out how we could harness our knowledge of human psychology to increase public awareness," Lok said in an interview posted on UBC's website

Knowing that statistics are generally the method of choice when it comes to awareness, those involved in the research looked for other ways to convey the message.

"People often make decisions about risks by relying primarily on their gut feelings. This suggests that people might be more likely to care about earthquakes if dry, abstract information were translated into vivid imagery that would affect people on a more emotional level," Lok said.

They chose to use one of the schools marked by the province as "high risk" in the test, and tested whether people who participated would be more inclined to act after seeing the image, versus reading statistics.

Participants were asked to sign a petition calling for seismic upgrades to be fast tracked at B.C. schools.

About 77 per cent of those who saw the illustration signed the petition, while 68 per cent who saw stats only added their names.

"These findings suggest that using vivid images to communicate scientific information can be an effective strategy for motivating people to support risk mitigation initiatives," a summary of the research published in the scientific journal Collabra: Psychology said.

Those behind the UBC project suggest the province considers using similar tactics – showing residents what public buildings or their own homes would look like – to encourage them to be proactive.