MBIE’s response to the Christchurch Royal Commission’s recommendations on communicating earthquake risk

 

On 13 February 2017, MBIE released their final report on the Christchurch Royal Commission’s recommendations.  In this update we examine the Commissions recommendations on communicating earthquake risk and make an assessment of MBIE’s actions.

The Commision stated:

In many cases, the building industry and the public don’t fully understand or appreciate the risk that some buildings pose in earthquakes, the likelihood of an earthquake and what a seismic assessment and its rating mean for a building.

And made the following recommendations.

Recommendation 76

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment should clearly describe to territorial authorities and the public the difference between the expected behaviour of an existing building prior to collapse, and the behaviour of a building that complies with the current Building Code.

Our Assessment

It is a little difficult to understand what the Commission is getting at here. One interpretation is that MBIE is meant to explain that existing and modern buildings have different failure modes preceeding collapase.  This is a technical area and it is not obvious that anything that is authoritative and useful could be explained to the public.

Recommendation 102

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment should review the best ways to make information about the risk buildings pose in earthquakes available to the public and should undertake appropriate educational activities to develop public understanding about such buildings.

Assessment

MBIE has not conducted a review. However, it continues to support the NZSEE  risk grading framework,  which  rates buildings in terms of their risk relative to a new building (i.e. 10 times as risky).  These  ratings tell the user nothing about the absulute risk of the building, which is what matters, and in any event there is no analysis behind behind the relative risk numbers. They were simply fabricated.

We asked MBIE if they could provide documents that explained how the critical ‘relative risk’ numbers were derived. They responded by saying that they had no information on the matter. MBIE has not informed itself, let alone the public.

Recommendation 103

The engineering and scientific communities should do more to communicate to the public the risk buildings pose in earthquakes, what an assessment of building strength means, and the likelihood of an earthquake.

Comment

The NZSEE has continued to promote its misleading risk rating system. For a discussion of why it is misleading and why EBSS will be taking action under the Fair Trading Act see ‘Don’t mention the law’ on this site.

We have reviewed territorial earthquake risk websites, because this is an important conduit  to the public.  With one exception, none provide information on the risk of earthquakes. Two, Auckland and Wellington, have provide false information on the likelihood of collaspe in a moderate earthquake. Both said that buildings could be expected to collapse in a moderate earthquake, when the risk is extremely remote for Wellington, and next to non-existent for Auckland.

The basic risk information exists. GNS Science put the relevant data together for MBIE for the MBIE 2012 cost benefit analysis. This information could be further refined  and more widely disseminated, but no attempt has been made to do so.

Recommendation 104

 Industry participants, such as insurers, valuers, and property managers, should ensure that they are aware of earthquake risks and the requirements for earthquake-prone buildings in undertaking their roles, and in their advice to building owners

Assessment

Industry participants have continued to rely on the NZSEE risk grading scheme and recommendations.

Recommendation 105

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment should support industry participants’ awareness of earthquake risks and the requirements for earthquake-prone buildings through provision of information and education.

Assessment

MBIE provides information of  requirements for ‘earthquake prone’ buildings but its representation of the law is deceptive.  It has done nothing to promote an understanding of earthquake risk. Its most recent ‘information’ effort was in early 2015 when it fabricated evidence on the number lives that would be saved over the next 100 years with the new  seismic strengthening legislation. They assumed that there would be a Hawkes Bay earthquake in that period, that Napier and Hastings had been rebuilt in unreinforced masonry buildings: and all building since then and for the next 100 years would be unreinforced masonry.

MBIEs Responses

MBIEs did not repond to the individual recommendations. Instead they set out a general description of  things they had done since the release of the Royal Commission’s report.

It included :

  • The 2013 consultation
  • The passing of the 2016 Amendemnt Act
  • The presentation of an overview of the new system to engineers in June 2016.
  • The ongoing ‘consultation’ of the new methodlogy and regultions
  • A Buiit Environment leaders forum was held in 2015

There was some general information about earthquake risk in the 2013 Consultation documents, but in general the document was light on the facts, and in many places outright misleading (see Error Prone Bureaucracy 2014 available on this site). They had the GNS Science data on the probability of earthquakes and the likelihood of damage  for different earthquake sizes.  They should have presented it, but they did not.

There was nothing in the above  processes and associated documents that seriously engaged with the Commissions recommendations on public education.