Resilient buildings project

Evaluating societal expectations for future seismic building performance in New Zealand

While Aotearoa New Zealand has gone through unprecedented losses from seismic activity, our understanding and knowledge around seismic hazards has advanced, highlighting shortcomings in the seismic settings of our building regime.

This research is a first step towards understanding and confirming what New Zealanders want regarding the seismic performance of buildings, providing insight into the changes and decisions the country needs to make regarding our seismic engineering and building practices, and the current regulatory regime.

Project update, Stage 3

Stage 3 of the project focused on a new Earthquake Performance Outcome (EPO) framework that guides the development of seismic standards, codes, and practices in New Zealand. It does this via a systematic approach that considers key social, economic and environmental outcome indicators as they relate to building performance according to reduced injury, property protection and reduced loss of amenity and function.

Key findings

Our snapshot of societal expectations found:
  1. Safety is non-negotiable.
  2. People are expecting more from buildings than that they just stay up after earthquakes. Social and economic recovery are also important objectives.
  3. Speed of recovery is a particular priority for some building types (e.g., marae, community centres, homes) which are currently not prioritised.
  4. The appetite for risk and expectations of buildings’ seismic performance varies significantly among those surveyed.
About the research

In this project, we have taken a fresh look at the underpinning assumptions of NZ’s seismic performance objectives. Through interviews and focus groups, we have used a wellbeing / multi-capital framework to explore people's expectations of building performance during and after an earthquake.

The research is about New Zealand buildings being resilient and fit for the future. It is one piece in a journey to understand and inform priorities for improving the resilience of our communities.

Project team
  • Charlotte Brown, Resilient Organisations
  • Helen Ferner, NZSEE
  • Hugh Cowan
  • Shannon Abeling, University of Auckland
  • Sophie Horsfall, Resilient Organisations

This project has been funded by NZSEE and EQC.


For more information please contact:

Charlotte Brown
+64 (0)21 142 5420

Quick read: Summary of the project key findings

Explore the key findings in these six snapshots we have created from the report.

How different communities view building importance
Explore how different communities view different buildings; how important they are and how quickly they would ideally like to see them return to functionality after a major earthquake.
How important is seismic risk relative to all other aspects of the built environment?
Sesimic resilience is competing against a range of other demands in our built environment. In our recent EQC funded, NZSEE Resilient Buildings Project we explored the importance of seismic resilience relative to other building performance objectives.
What influences individuals’ and communities’ risk tolerance and willingness to reduce risk in the buildings they use and own?
To know how to effectively regulate and incentivise risk reduction, we need to understand what spurs people into action and what stops them.
Do communities have the same risk priorities? What impacts a community’s risk tolerance?
Communities have many competing priorities – of which seismic resilience is just one. Understanding a community’s risk tolerance is helpful when planning and prioritising risk mitigation.
What do New Zealanders want from their buildings?
Is keeping people safe (life safety) the only thing we require of our buildings following a major earthquake? Our current building code focuses on preserving life and making sure critical emergency response facilities are operational. But participants in our study indicated that while life safety remains the most important focus, having a building stock that can enable social and economic recovery is an increasing priority.
Which buildings do we want to be the most ‘life safe’?
Currently in New Zealand we require buildings with post earthquake functions (like hospitals), and large buildings (like stadiums) to be built stronger than others. But is that in line with current societal expectations? We explored this question with participants in our recent EQC funded, NZSEE Resilient Buildings Project.

Poster presentation overview of the project

These two posters were presented at the 2022 QuakeCore Annual Meeting providing an overview of the findings from this project.

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