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A new decision-making framework for earthquake-prone council buildings

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Friday, November 12, 2021, 9:57 a.m. PRESS RELEASE: BRANZ

When council buildings are closed, communities lose access to spaces for meeting and socializing and access to services, which can affect social and economic well-being.

Five years after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, a new decision-making framework is being launched to help councils navigate their legal obligations around the management of earthquake-prone council buildings.

The introduction of the Buildings Adjustment (Seismic Prone Buildings) Act 2016, along with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, resulted in some regional authorities shutting down council buildings that were below 34% of the New Building Standard (NBS). This was despite there being no express statutory requirement to suspend occupancy.

The research supporting the decision framework was conducted after identifying differences in regional authorities’ understanding of legislation relevant to earthquake-prone council buildings. The new framework addresses the fact that some regional authorities lack a formal, documented process for making policy decisions about earthquake-prone council buildings.

The BRANZ-led project was a collaboration with Resilience Organizations, the Kestrel Group, the University of Canterbury’s Institute for Law, Emergencies and Disasters (LEAD) and Massey University’s Joint Center for Disaster Research. Several councils participated in the joint design of the framework by sharing information about who made the decisions, what were the main drivers and how engineering risk information was interpreted, assessed and acted upon.

The framework helps assess all the risks and benefits associated with closing the council building, says Michael Knuth, a sociologist and project manager at Brans.

“The framework takes into account factors such as the number of occupants of the building, the average time spent in the building, and how long the building will occupy when it is prone to earthquakes. In addition, it brings about the social and economic consequences of closure.

“It was a very collaborative project with experience coming from a range of project partners, as well as many boards. We really hope all boards find the framework helpful in making their decisions,” says Mr. Knuth.

LGNZ CEO Susan Freeman Green encourages each council to use the proposed framework to help make those tough decisions.

“Regional authorities have to balance legal obligations focused on keeping people safe with local government law that requires them to promote the social, environmental, cultural, social and economic well-being of communities.

“This decision framework should help council decision makers confidently and powerfully make decisions about earthquake-prone buildings that are in the best interests of their communities,” says Ms. Freeman Green.

The framework consists of five steps that are broadly aligned with the International Standard for Risk Management (IS0 31000), which steps users through the phases of identifying, assessing and addressing risks for risk management.

Download the framework for free on the BRANZ website: www.branz.co.nz/shop/catalogue/earthquake-prone-buildings_994.

in-depth reading

– Branns Now Research: Seismic Resilience #2. Management of Earthquake-Prone Council Buildings. Available at https://www.branz.co.nz/pubs/research-now/seismic-resilience/

– BRANZ 463 Study Report: Seismic Prone Council Buildings Management: Balancing Life Safety Risks and Community Costs. Available at: https://www.branz.co.nz/pubs/research-reports/sr463-managing-earthquake-prone-council-buildings-balancing-life-safety-risks-and-community-costs/

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