Seismic Shift: What You Need to Know About the Law Changes

June 23, 2017

Building Safety is Paramount: From 1 July 2017 the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 is expected to take effect. The purpose of this Bill is to standardise the approach to managing buildings in terms of assessment, strengthening procedures/time frames and informing the wider public.

Currently the Building Act 2004 requires that territorial authorities (TA’S) adopt an earthquake-prone building policy. Each council therefore has created an approach to meet the obligations of the Act in accordance with the level of seismic activity in their district. Although most TA’s will follow similar policies, there are variations between the regions which means specific tailoring to each districts policy requirements.

The new nationwide policy categorises the entire country into three seismic risk areas and sets timeframes for identifying and taking action to strengthen or remove earthquake-prone buildings. Buildings (that fall within the EPB definition) are categorised as “Priority” or “Other” and depending on the region, will have specific timeframes to identify potentially EPB buildings and strengthen/demolish if necessary.

The mandatory timeframe to identify potentially EPB buildings is a key reform to the approach as typically this was at the discretion of each TA. With the Amendment the onus will be on TA’s/owners to ensure that all buildings are seismically assessed, their seismic risk correctly identified and further works programmed in, all within a considered timeframe.

The Primary Goals of the Amendment Act

  • To better target districts, buildings, and parts of buildings that pose the greatest risk.
  • Provide improved information for TA’s, local councils, building owners, engineers and the public, and make this information more accessible.

Strike an appropriate balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake, the cost of strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings and impacts on heritage.

As structural engineers we readily welcome the Amendment as it precisely aims to understand and manage the building stock in New Zealand. We will continue to seismically assess and prepare recommendations in accordance with well established guidelines and practices, most recently the revised draft 10 October 2016 “The Seismic Assessment of Existing Buildings – Technical Guidelines for Engineering Assessments” however our recommendations will be modified to reflect the new time frames.

Practically, the standardised approach means not having to meet the requirements of each individual policy when seismically assessing existing buildings in different districts. With the demand for structural services in New Zealand set to increase and the trans-regional nature of this demand, this is welcome.

By Keith Robinson, Chartered Professional Structural Engineer, Christchurch.

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