Targeting earthquake risk

May 11, 2015

Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith announced a targeted approach to building regulations for earthquake safety at the National Party’s Mainland conference yesterday:

“The priority in developing this earthquake strengthening policy for buildings is public safety and minimising future fatalities. We also need to ensure the response is proportionate to the risk, that the costs are minimised and that we retain as much of our built heritage as possible,” Dr Smith says.

The four significant changes to the policy are:

  • Varying the timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk
  • Prioritising education and emergency buildings for strengthening
  • Reducing the number of buildings requiring assessment; and
  • Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades.

“The timeframe for identification and assessment of five years and strengthening of 15 years is to be varied relative to seismic risk. The return period for a significant earthquake (MM8) ranges from 120 years in Wellington, to 720 years in Christchurch, to 1700 years in Dunedin, and only once every 7400 years in Auckland. New Zealand is to be categorised into low, medium and high seismic risk zones with timeframes for assessment of five, 10 and 15 years and strengthening of 15, 25 and 35 years,” Dr Smith says.

“Education and emergency buildings will be targeted by requiring that in high and medium seismic risk areas they be identified and strengthened in half the standard time. We are prioritising all education buildings regularly occupied by 20 people or more. We also want to ensure buildings like hospitals can maintain services in the aftermath of a significant earthquake.

“The scope of buildings requiring assessment is to be reduced from an estimated 500,000 to 30,000. We are excluding farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments, wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks. The new methodology for identifying earthquake-prone buildings will ensure the focus is on older buildings like unreinforced masonry that pose the greatest risk.

“Building owners are to be encouraged to upgrade their buildings ahead of the allowable timeframe by establishing a web based public register and requiring notices on such buildings highlighting the level of risk. There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.”

The Government also confirmed that the earthquake-prone building definition as being less than 34 per cent of the new building standard (NBS), a 10-year extension for listed heritage buildings, and exemptions from strengthening for low risk, low occupancy buildings, would remain in the policy.

“The effect of these policy changes is that buildings like schools, universities and hospitals in high and medium seismic risk areas will have to be upgraded more quickly, but buildings in low risk areas like Auckland and Dunedin more gradually. This more targeted approach reduces the estimated cost from $1360 million to $777 million while retaining the safety gains. The policy will result in an estimated 330 fewer deaths and 360 fewer serious injuries from earthquakes over the next century,” Dr Smith says.

“The select committee is considering the Bill and will be reporting back to Parliament in July with passage later this year. We will also be consulting on the detailed regulations like the assessment methodology, the Earthquake-Prone Buildings Register, the building notice requirements and the definition of substantial alterations.

“There are no easy answers to the seismic risk posed by thousands of older buildings in New Zealand. We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading. This is the most comprehensive policy of any seismically active country for dealing with older buildings and strikes the right balance between safety, cost, heritage and practicality.”

The Minister’s full speech is here.

The schedule of the revised timetable by location is here.

A map of the new zones is here.

This policy is pragmatic and practical and has been greeted positively.

The Construction Strategy Group says it is realistic:

The targeted risk-based policy adopted by the Government toward strengthening of earthquake-prone buildings appears realistic for the circumstances with which the country is dealing says the Construction Strategy Group (CSG).

Chairman of the CSG, Geoff Hunt, said today that in adopting a measured position reflective of the realities that earthquake risk in New Zealand varies significantly between regions the Government was taking a realistic approach.

“A policy which puts aside more onerous and unreasonable requirements for upgrading commercial structures in low risk regions, and disposes of top level upgrades for little-used farm sheds and such buildings as isolated rural country churches, is practical and sensible,” he says.

“The CSG has long advocated a policy that takes account of risk factors. It is supportive of the intention to set a ‘must upgrade’ base line of 34 percent of today’s new building standard. The new time frames for upgrading earthquake-prone structures are also helpful in bringing cost factors into line with affordability.

“The regional categorisation of regions into low, medium and high risk zones will allow local government to take a realistic policy approach.

“The openness to public scrutiny of a building’s earthquake resistance status is also helpful to public safety. It will also ensure constant pressure on building owners with at risk buildings to have them brought up to speed sooner rather than later.

“Priority focus on upgrading the 30,000 most at risk buildings and on upgrading schools and hospitals is a matter of necessity.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the move was positive:

He said strengthening must still go ahead, but he was pleased Dr Smith had listened to the concerns of southern councils which had lobbied him ”intensively” for two years for change.

”To his credit, he’s listened to those concerns and yes, he will [now] adjust according to [earthquake] risk,” Mr Cull said when contacted last night.

Mr Cull said the ”one size fits all” edict had been detrimental to the lower South Island because of the large number of older buildings.

”Basically, it would have been uneconomic to fix [earthquake proof] them and a lot would have had to be demolished,” Mr Cull said.

The first policy proposed for earthquake safety measures took no account of risk.

Owners of historic buildings in low risk areas like Oamaru and Dunedin would have been forced to demolish their buildings because they would not have been able to do meet the proposed standard in the proposed time.

This policy takes a much more balanced approach based on risk.

It doesn’t mean that earthquakes won’t strike low risk areas nor that a quake won’t kill people.

The Minister rightly says We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading.

This policy balances risk and cost.


Quote of the day

April 28, 2015

We still carry this old caveman-imprint idea that we’re small, nature’s big, and it’s everything we can manage to hang on and survive. When big geophysical events happen – a huge earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption – we’re reminded of that.James Balog


Perspective

July 22, 2013

Three years ago the news of a large earthquake in the top of the South and lower North Islands would have been even bigger news three years ago.

But the September 2010 and February 2011 and the thousands of others which followed them have changed our perspective.

Fortunately there have been no reported deaths or major injuries from last evening’s one and the smaller ones which preceded it.

Without in any way dismissing the fear and anguish of those who went through it and are still dealing with the aftershocks, especially people whose homes were damaged, and the hassles associated with trains not running and buildings which can’t be accessed, this was an upset, not a disaster.

Let’s hope it stays that way.


Drop, cover and hold

June 9, 2012

People in Christchurch know the drop, cover and hold drill and it is important that the rest of us do too.

That’s the motivation behind the Great New Zealand Shakeout – the country’s largest ever earthquake drill which is being held at 9:26am on September 26 (9:26 on 26.9).

Why bother?

While earthquake hazard varies from region to region (see below), all of New Zealand is prone to earthquakes.  You could be anywhere when an earthquake strikes – at home, at work, at school or on holiday. 

New Zealand ShakeOut has been created to help people and organisations get better prepared for major earthquakes, and practice how to be protected when they happen.  Everyone will practice “Drop, Cover and Hold”—the right action to take in an earthquake.

New Zealand ShakeOut also provides a fantastic opportunity for organisations and businesses to examine and review their own emergency preparedness arrangements.  Families and households can create, review and practice their household plans.

Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain says that more than 100,000 people have already registered to participate.

It’s easy to think it won’t happen here, but that’s what Canterbury people would have thought before the September 2010 earthquake. That and the thousands that have followed are proof it could happen anywhere and we all ought to know how to protect ourselves and those around us.

We’ve had all-too regular reminders that these are the shaky isles and we need to be prepared for the shaking wherever and whenever it happens.


Chch needs southern support

January 11, 2012

Quote of the day:

“It’s distressing enough for people in Christchurch to have to go through the difficulties that the earthquake events continue to present, without actually scaring them completely by suggesting that they’re going to have to relocate to Dunedin.”

It comes from Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee in response to Dunedin City Councillor Lee Vandervis who said that rather than rebuilding Christchurch it should be relocated to Dunedin.

Like most who were students at Otago I have a soft spot for Dunedin but the idea of relocating Christchurch there is ludicrous.

Some quake refugees have moved south but that’s very different from relocating the city infrastructure like the port and other services as Cr Vandervis is suggesting.

Many refugees have moved north or emigrated and if the city wasn’t rebuilt it’s more likely that people and businesses would choose those options over Dunedin.

Fortunately, most Christchurch people want to stay in or near the city which is their home and they have the backing to do so from central and local government which is committed to the rebuild and recovery.

Dunedin, and the rest of the South Island should be co-operating with and supporting that not trying to compete with the city.

Without a strong, vibrant Christchurch the whole of the south will suffer and the growing population imbalance between North and South Islands will get even bigger.

UPDATE: Just spotted a link on Facebook to Lonely Planet’s post-quake guide to Christchurch :

After two weeks on-the-ground research in Christchurch recently– Lonely Planet’s third visit since the February 2011 earthquake – we’re confident the city is one of New Zealand’s bravest and most resilient communities.

Our latest visit was unlike any other Lonely Planet research gig, with virtually all of the bars, cafes and restaurants recommended in our 2010 New Zealand guidebook no longer open. But amid the occasional uncertainty of aftershocks, Christchurch is re-emerging as one of NZ’s most exciting cities.

If you’re heading to the South Island of New Zealand, definitely spend a few days in the city. There’s still plenty to do, and you’ll be supporting the new businesses inspiring Christchurch’s renaissance. Note that there is considerable demand for Christchurch accommodation, and booking ahead is strongly recommended.

Lonely Planet sees what Cr Vandervis cannot – the city is still open for business and we should be supporting it.


Politician of year

December 16, 2011

The mood at the National’s Canterbury Westland Christmas Party on Monday night was buoyant.

Amy Adams and Jo Goodhew had been named in the new Cabinet, Minister Kate Wilkinson and MP Nicky Wagner had won their electorates and National had won the party vote in Christchurch.

That was due to the hard work of all the regions MPs but even more so on the government’s handling of the earthquakes and recovery.

The man responsible for that, Gerry Brownlee, was named Trans Tasman’s politician of the year:

Christchurch earthquake Tsar  Gerry Brownlee, the man who is credited for virtually singlehandedly  turning the once Labour stronghold of the Garden City into a sea of  Party Vote Blue in the election, has been named politician of the year by Trans Tasman’s Roll Call, NZ’s number one political newsweekly’s  annual ranking of the nation’s MPs.

Of Brownlee Trans Tasman says – “Without big party-vote majorities in several traditional Labour electorates in and  around Christchurch, National might have fallen behind the  aggregate vote of the parties aligned against it. The man at the  centre of this achievement is Gerry Brownlee.”

He was also Duncan Garner’s Minister of the year.

But this accolade is for Christchurch alone. It is an enormous problem. . .  

It had the potential to sink the Government. It’s a red town – that is now  painted blue.

John Key and Gerry Brownlee got the tone right. Sure there are some  disgruntled people. That happens. But the Government’s rescue packages were bang  on. The initial business rescue grants were extended and that was the right  decision.

The Government’s decision to buy thousands of written-off houses was the  biggest insurance package any Government anywhere in the world had offered its  citizens.

It is a massive extension to the welfare state. The Government acted because  it had to. The insurance companies have been slow to open their wallets. Their  behaviour over the next three years is being closely watched by the  Government.

I called it a silver plated scheme when it was released and I stand by that.

That National won Christchurch Central and Waimakariri is testament to  Brownlee’s work in his home town. I accept some households are not happy, but  given the scale of the disaster Brownlee and John Key have largely got the  Government’s response bang on.

Brownlee was the man at the top and as such he has been on the receiving end of criticism and frustration. The election result is a vote of confidence in him and the government from the people whose city he is helping rebuild.

It is an enormous challenge and he has tackled it while also having to deal with the loss of his home which was one of those severely damaged in the quakes.

The rebuild is a very long-term project, it will take at least a decade, maybe two, the magnitude and cost of the task is already impacting on us all. It is very important to get it right from the start and the people most affected, those in Christchurch and its hinterland, voted to show that, largely thanks to Brownlee, the government has.

 


Earthquake prediction reporting another nominee for Bent Spoon

August 29, 2011

NZ Skeptics awarded their 2011 Bent Spoon for journalistic gullibility to all media outlets and personalities who took Ken Ring’s earthquake predictions seriously.

The Bent Spoon was awarded telepathically by those gathered for the annual NZ Skeptics Conference which, appropriately given the winner was held in Christchurch at the weekend.

And there’s already another nominee for the next award. TV3 is reporting Ring’s predicting another big earthquake for Christchurch at the end of September.

He does qualify the prediction:

On his website, he says there is a “potent” lunar alignment in the last week of September, same as the one that existed at the time of the September 4, 2010 quake.

“Indeed, it may not happen, and we all hope not, but the main players will be in position,” he says. “For example we might observe that Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw are on the field, but that does not guarantee a win.”

And the report does include this:

A 3 News analysis of Mr Ring’s predictions earlier this year failed to show any evidence he was able to accurately predict earthquakes, and even his long-range weather forecasts did no better than chance.

Given that, why bother reporting this latest prediction? There is no news value in further predictions from someone whose predictions have been proved inaccuarte and even with the qualifications giving the prediction coverage is taking it seriously.

The Herald report is even worse, it doesn’t bother to report the unreliability of his previous predictions.

All media should ignore his predictions as the unscientific guess-work they are and anyone with any doubts should read, or re-read, David Winter’s scientific evaluation of the predictions.


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