Evaluating building safety quickly after an emergency

New guidelines will help territorial authorities prepare for, implement and manage the structural safety evaluation of buildings after major earthquakes and other disasters.

Lessons from the 2007 Gisborne earthquake have led to significant enhancements in the guidelines on building safety after major earthquakes and other disasters. Providing rapid and authoritative decisions was shown to reduce anxiety among building owners, tenants and the public, and allowed an early return to economic activity.

The guidelines, which are also intended for engineers and others who assist in the field, are based on a previous New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE) document adapted from the United States model. NZSEE has further developed them with support from the Department of Building and Housing and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

Building and Construction Minister, Hon Maurice Williamson, has commended the cross-agency collaboration as ‘a great example of those with the expertise working in partnership with central and local government to reduce the impact of an earthquake or other emergency on our communities’.

The Minister is encouraging all territorial authorities and regional civil defence groups to adopt the guidelines, which he says will reduce the danger to citizens from building damage and allow communities to recover more quickly from the devastating effects of an earthquake.

Training modules have been developed and the Otago, Canterbury and Wellington councils and civil defence groups have already engaged NZSEE to deliver training to their staff. Other regions are encouraged to do the same as this training will promote a greater response capability and a more uniform approach to help in a national response to disasters.

The recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific and Sumatra are a timely reminder of the need to be ready to respond quickly. The Building Safety Evaluation Guidelines are available online.