Earthquake prone public buildings

Balancing life safety risks and community costs.
A BRANZ-funded project, working with local authorities to create advice and tools to help make decisions around earthquake-prone public buildings.
The introduction of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act in 2016 has led to the rapid closure of a number of public buildings.

According to this Act, if a building is below 34% of the New Building Standard (NBS) it is considered earthquake-prone and must be remediated within a specified time frame. However, some building owners are choosing to close buildings as soon as they are identified as earthquake-prone, leading to long periods where the services housed in those buildings are unavailable to the community.

The closure of some public buildings has led to notable and immediate socio-economic impacts. For example, the closure of the Southland Museum affected 41 jobs. The full economic, social, and cultural impacts are still to be realised.  The closure of Naenae Olympic Pool in Lower Hutt has created a great sense of uncertainty in the community and some businesses reliant on pool users have already closed.

The aim of this project was to establish, through consultation with Territorial Authorities, advice and tools that would help decision-makers improve confidence in their decision-making around occupancy of earthquake-prone public buildings.

Key findings

Currently, there is little consistency across Territorial Authorities (TAs) on how to make decisions related to the occupancy of earthquake-prone buildings.

TAs have a regulatory obligation as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). Also under the Local Government Act 2002 TAs have an obligation to take into account the interests of both current and future communities when making decisions. This includes the seismic resilience of assets as well as the economic, social, and cultural impacts of closing such assets.

5 step decision-making framework for local councils

A framework has been developed to support councils to make decisions about the management of council-owned buildings.

It provides a five-step approach to support consistent decisions about whether to continue using earthquake-prone buildings or not. This was developed in line with international standards for risk management (ISO 31000) and with input from several territorial authorities. The suggested process reflects and balances various legislative responsibilities.

It aims to provide confidence to council officers, chief executives, and elected members on how to meet their legislative obligations while also minimising disruption to council activities and community services.

RiskNZ Excellence Awards 2022 winner

We are really thrilled this project has been recognised in the RiskNZ Awards, winning both the Risk Initiative of the Year and Stronger Together in Partnership awards.

Project team

This project has been funded by the BRANZ Research Levy.

Project outputs

Download the full project report:
Nuth, M., Brown, C., Brunsdon, D., Hopkins, J., Hudson-Doyle, E. & Ball, R. (2021). Managing earthquake-prone council buildings: Balancing life safety risks and community costs. BRANZ Study Report SR463. Judgeford, New Zealand: BRANZ Ltd.

Other publications:

Ball, R., Hudson-Doyle, E., Nuth, M., Hopkins, J., Brunsdon, D., & Brown, C. (2022). Behavioural science applied to risk-based decision processes: a case study for earthquake prone buildings in New Zealand. Civil Engineering and Environmental Systems, 39:2, 144-164, DOI: 10.1080/10286608.2022.2089980.
Download a pre-print version of this paper

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