An EBSS report ‘Don’t mention the law’, on MBIE’s proposed regulations and methodology for identifying earthquake prone buildings, shows that the Chief Executive, David Smol, intends to flout a landmark Supreme Court decision.
The law provides that the earthquake prone building test is against performance in a defined moderate earthquake. The Supreme Court, in a 2014 decision, ruled that the test earthquake must be a moderate earthquake, and not any more severe event. This ruling has been ignored in the methodology, where the effective test is some undefined severe earthquake.
“This ‘severe earthquake’ test and other manipulations means that buildings can be designated as earthquake prone when they clearly are not”, said Ian Harrison Chair of EBSS. “Engineers were told in their briefing document that assessed seismic ratings should never match the actual capacity of the building”.
The report recommends that engineers be required to sign an attestation that an earthquake prone building meets the specific performance test required by law.
“MBIE’s regime is grossly over engineered,” said Harrison. “There is an issue with unreinforced masonry buildings in more seismically active areas, but the real risks can be addressed quickly and relatively cheaply. We don’t have to do tens of thousands of potentially rigged assessments and then spend billions strengthening reinforced concrete and wooden buildings that are known to perform well in earthquakes”.
MBIE does not know how the regime will work and whether it will deliver consistent results, because it has not been tested. The methodology development process fells well short of minimum testing and validation standards, let alone best practice.
The report shows that the public has been systematically mislead about the real risk of so-called ‘earthquake prone’ buildings.
- The New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering risk grading system, which is being promoted by MBIE, describes buildings as high risk, and very high risk, when they can be thousands of times safer than everyday activities such as driving or flying.
- Older reinforced concrete buildings performed as well as modern buildings in the Christchurch earthquake.
- The Wellington City Council’s website states that earthquake prone buildings can be expected to collapse in a moderate earthquake. Wellington was hit by a moderate earthquake in November 2016, but only two of nearly 700 ‘earthquake prone’ buildings had structural damage, and none collapsed. It was the modern buildings that were the big problem.
EBSS believes that engineers have breached the Fair Trading Act by making misleading statements about the need for services, and making unsubstantiated statements about risk. EBSS will be making a complaint to the Commerce Commission under the Act.
Contact: Ian Harrison Chair EBSS
The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 was enacted by Parliament in May 2016. MBIE’s consultation on proposals for regulations and a methodology that will support the new legislation closed on 10 February.
EBSS is a society established to:
- Improve the quality of the debate on seismic strengthening policies
- Produce research and discussion documents on seismic strengthening issues
- Lobby central and local governments to implement evidence based seismic strengthening policies
- Take legal action, or assist parties to take action, when there has been a breach of the law
- Provide information to building owners who are unfairly affected by the implementation of seismic strengthening policies
- Provide assistance to building owners who may have received poor advice from engineers on seismic strengthening matters.