Following an event that has caused damage to buildings, rapid building assessments are carried out where a state of emergency or designation is in place, when the event has caused damage to buildings.
Rapid building assessments quickly establish the usability of buildings and associated infrastructure where functions may be compromised by a hazard event such as flooding. The focus of the rapid building assessment process is on immediate public safety; they do not provide an engineering assessment service to building owners.
They are a brief initial assessment that is conducted to ensure the safety of building occupants and the public. This assessment will identify if the building is safe to remain in.
Rapid building assessments are completed by teams led by the local Territorial Authority. They are generally MBIE trained and registered building assessors who assess damaged buildings, including existing or potential hazards, and then record details of the damage and assign appropriate placards to buildings to identify use.
A Rapid Building Assessor will look at the outside, and possibly the inside of the building to check the damage caused. If the building is undamaged, but at risk of being damaged by neighbouring buildings or natural hazards nearby, it will be assessed based on that risk.
MBIE recommends that where other building experts who have not completed MBIE rapid building assessment training, such as structural or geotechnical engineers, are needed to support rapid building assessment decision making – that the final placarding decision is made by the trained Rapid Building Assessor.
During the initial response of an emergency, rapid impact assessments are completed which are typically led by Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and/or USAR with council staff. These rapid impact assessments provide councils with information so they can prioritise where they may send their rapid building assessment teams.
Rapid impact assessments are initial assessments undertaken within the first 8 to 48 hours of an emergency. Their purpose is to obtain a broad picture of the type and extent of damage within the impacted area. This information is then used to help determine initial response activities, and to ascertain where and when more detailed assessment may be needed, such as in-depth building and structural assessments, or detailed welfare or recovery needs assessments.
Following the initial response, rapid building assessments are undertaken.
Conducting a rapid building assessment
Any person properly authorised to undertake an assessment under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 or the Building Act (as relevant) may undertake a rapid building assessment, however MBIE recommends:
- only trained Rapid Building Assessors should complete rapid building assessments and placard properties and buildings.
- any building officials and engineers who are not trained on rapid building assessments but who are supporting the emergency response form part of a team with a trained assessor.
- only assessors who are trained and on the internal MBIE register should issue placards following a rapid building assessment.
When a rapid building assessment is conducted, the following steps are followed:
1. Identify the hazards
The Rapid Building Assessor will identify the building and its location. Generally, this will be based on information and intelligence supplied from the Emergency Operations Centre, or through a Rapid Impact Assessment (from Fire and Emergency New Zealand).
2. Assess building and its surrounds
The Rapid Building Assessor will undertake the assessment process, and complete the prescribed form (likely digitally, using Survey 123). This will differ depending on whether a residential or commercial assessment is being undertaken:
- Simple – single residential dwellings, including 2 or 3 storey houses
- Complex – multiple dwellings (e.g., apartment blocks)
- Commercial (assessments for commercial buildings have two levels)
- Level 1 – generally external only
- Level 2 – external and internal
3. Note other hazards
The Rapid Building Assessor will also look around the area of the building to identify any hazards which could impact on the safety of the building (this could be cliff faces, trees, unstable ground, exposed underground infrastructure, flood waters, silt/mud etc).
4. Record details of assessment
The Rapid Building Assessor will carefully record the details of the building assessment on the correct form, this may be on a paper-based form or digitally via applications like Survey123. Rapid Building Assessors typically work in teams and will consult with one another to ensure a fair placard is assigned.
5. Assign placard to the building
The Rapid Building Assessor will then select the required placard. The placards will be one of the following:
- White (can be used)
- Yellow (restricted access by supervised personnel, or for a short period of time)
- Red (entry prohibited because of either land risk or damage to building).
They will fill in the required details and affix a placard on each entrance, ensuring these can be clearly seen. There will only be one placard type per building.
6. Restrict access to the building
Where necessary, the Rapid Building Assessor will place barrier tape to restrict access to parts of the building. This differs from cordoning and barricading, which is the responsibility of the Controller and Building Response Manager.
7. Provide information to the building owner
Direct the building owner/occupier to more information on what the placard means – can be either the council's website, or for more information or directly to MBIE.
8. Recommend further inspections, if necessary
There are further types of inspections that can be undertaken at the recommendation of the Rapid Building Assessor or the. These are:
- Rapid Building Assessment – further technical support from a Tier 1 technical lead
- Interim Use Evaluation - assesses the impact of damage on the continued use of a building or adjacent property, with an emphasis on public safety. This is generally done by a CPEng Engineer (structural) contracted by the building owner/user. This is the responsibility of the building owner.
- Detailed Damage Evaluation - determines the full scope of damage and required repairs and resources. This is done by structural and geotechnical engineers and is the responsibility of the building owner.
After a placard has been affixed to a building, there are remediation steps that must be taken in order for the building's placard to be removed.
9. Determining the remediation work required
If a building has been issued with a red or yellow placard, the owner should in the first instance contact their local council/territorial authority, as well as their insurer. The territorial authority should be able to tell the owner what steps will need to be taken to have a placard change or removed, while the insurer will be able to provide information regarding what professionals and inspections will need to be organised.
10. Complete required work, then request reassessment
The Territorial Authority requires evidence that the building meets the building code, and any repairs which are required have been completed by a licensed building practitioner. Once an owner has the required evidence, they will contact the territorial authority to reassess the placard status.
The timeframes for a rapid building assessment are dependent on the size and scale of the event and the availability of the response teams and Rapid Building Assessors. The aim of a rapid building assessment is to quickly assess the impact of damage observed on the continued use of a building or adjacent property. The emphasis is on public safety.
Generally, a rapid building assessment involves brief visual assessments of damage to individual buildings and their immediate surrounds for impact, usability, and hazards exposure with formal records. Assessments can involve both external and internal inspection, taking from 20 minutes to two hours each.
Not every building in an impacted area or region may receive a rapid building assessment. If a homeowner or resident is concerned that they have not received an assessment, they can request one by contacting their council directly.