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New system in place for managing earthquake-prone buildings

A nationally consistent system for managing earthquake-prone buildings (EPBs) which  changes the way EPBs are identified, assessed and managed came into effect on July 1.

The primary objective of the new system is to protect people from harm. It categorises New Zealand into three seismic risk areas, and uses these areas to set time frames for identifying, strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings.

It introduces a new category of “priority” buildings in high and medium seismic risk areas that are considered higher risk because of their construction, type, use or location.

Priority buildings must be identified and strengthened, or removed in half the time available for other buildings in the same seismic risk area.

The system applies to non-residential buildings and larger residential buildings that are two storeys or more, have three or more household units, or are used as a hostel, boarding house or other form of specialised accommodation.

Under the new system, territorial authorities (councils) are responsible for identifying potentially earthquake-prone buildings and notifying building owners, determining if a building is earthquake-prone and, if so, assigning a rating (based on an engineering assessment) and issuing EPB notices to building owners.

Territorial authorities will also have to publish information on buildings they have determined to be earthquake-prone in a national online register hosted by the MBIE. The register is a public document.

The MBIE will be working with territorial authorities and building professionals over the coming months to help them with the transition to the new system, and providing information for building owners.

Engineers say the new legislation marks a step forward in improving New Zealand’s building stock.

Structural Engineering Society (SESOC) spokesperson Paul Campbell says it’s about having a better framework and tools for assessing buildings, which will help improve building stock and increase seismic resilience.

“It also means a more consistent approach to the management of earthquake-prone buildings. The new legislation will encourage discussion between owners and engineers on how owners can proactively manage and improve buildings,” Mr Campbell says.

New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE) president Peter Smith says the new engineering guidelines create a more systematic approach to seismic assessment.

“They provide clearer definitions and more detailed guidance on ratings, which will make assessments more consistent.”

Institute of Professional Engineers NZ chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene says building owners looking for an engineer to carry out a seismic assessment should make sure the engineer has received training on the new guidelines.

For an overview of the new system, visit www.building.govt.nz/managing-buildings/managing-earthquake-prone-buildings.

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