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Friday, January 11, 2013

Earthquake-prone building policy consultation

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (which now includes what used to be the Department of Building and Housing) are consulting on proposed changes to the system for dealing with earthquake-prone buildings.

The focus of the exercise is a proposal that all non-residential buildings and all multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings have a seismic capacity assessment done within 5 years. Owners of buildings identified as earthquake-prone would then have up to 10 years to strengthen or demolish these buildings.

As potential users of these buildings we have a vested interest in ensuring they are properly assessed and either made safe or demolished as quickly as possible. As in the past there will be tensions between the desire to minimise or defer expenditure and the need for safety.

There is a consultation document available here. The consultation period closes on the 8th of March.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

EQC and asbestos

EQC today updated the Asbestos page on their website (here).  From the way the information is worded it seems EQC will take responsibility for areas of a house that contains asbestos and has experienced earthquake damage.

EQC spokesman Rod Stiven is quoted by Stuff (here) as saying the encasement policy followed health guidelines.

"Enclosing is a reliable method for ensuring asbestos is safely contained," he said.

"We are following the relevant national guidelines and the recommended practice of Canterbury Public Health. Asbestos is only a health risk where it is damaged or deteriorating, and in those cases it is removed.”

What is not clear is the point at which the damage is considered insufficient to warrant the costs involved in removal.

Where there is no damage the EQC website implies that it will still be possible to have the asbestos removed at the homeowner’s expense:

Can I have all the asbestos in my home removed?

If there are parts of your home that are undamaged by the earthquake and may have asbestos, you’ll need to organise separately to have these tested and addressed by your own contractor. (This work isn’t covered by EQC.)

The question remains as to whether Fletcher/EQR will cooperate and allow this work to be incorporated into the repair work programme.

Prior to today’s update, the EQC Asbestos page contained the following, dated the 2nd of October 2012:

Asbestos

The Canterbury Home Repair Programme has identified around 43,500 homes that may have asbestos in some of their building materials.

Asbestos was in widespread use in New Zealand houses and commercial buildings from the 1940s to the 1990s. It was commonly used as a wall or roof cladding, for insulation (both thermal and acoustic), and as a fireproofing material.

In everyday use, asbestos is only a health risk if it becomes damaged and fibres are released into the air. However, treatment and removal of damaged asbestos is a specialist job.

How we're dealing with asbestos

Page last updated: 2 Oct 2012

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

No quake prediction system for NZ

The NZ Herald reported yesterday (here) that a quake prediction system devised in the US won’t be installed in New Zealand. The Herald article leads off:

An earthquake prediction system installed on some of the world's largest fault lines is unproven and won't be rolled out in New Zealand, government scientists say.

US researchers believe they've cracked a way of predicting quakes days before they strike, with the potential to save thousands of lives.

It is hard to know how much credibility to attach to such claims. Are the researchers offering us something as revolutionary as the tsunami warning system was when it was first produced, nothing more than an opportunity to buy into a system less useful than the Ministry of Education’s payroll system, or something as likely as a universal cure for cancer?

The prediction system is called QuakeFinder and the associated web site is here. A quick check of the page dealing with the science behind their system suggests that nothing concrete has been established about what early warning signals the ground might produce when a quake is imminent. On the About page (here) the company makes the following comment regarding the results obtained so far:

To date, retrospective analysis has revealed apparent earthquake signatures for three significant quakes. If these patterns are observed in prospective data analysis, appropriate local authorities will be alerted.

What exactly does that mean, and of what practical use would it be?

Even if quakes could sometimes be predicted, how would we handle the information? How good (precise as to time, place, magnitude, depth, and nature) would the information be? What would be the greatest risk: building collapse, liquefaction, tsunami, panic? Who would get to know first? Who would decide what information would be released, how and when? What would be the best way for the public to respond and where exactly would those at risk go to  be safe?

Would the citizens of Christchurch feel confident about leaving these decisions in the hands of senior management of the Council? If not, then who would be considered suitable? Even if there were a system with merit, there is a lot of work to be done before implementation of even a trial could be considered.

For a more scientific approach to the issues of earthquake forecasting there is a 2011 article on the Science Daily website here, and general information on the QuakeSim website here.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Community Law Canterbury - update

Community Law Canterbury (CLC) reopened for 2013 from today.  For appointments and opening hours contact them on 03 3666 870.  The outreach clinics will reopen the week of the 14th of January.

For the first time since since the February earthquake the drop in service is running again.  The service operates only from their Riccarton office on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings (5.30pm - 7pm) and on Saturday mornings (9.30am - 12pm).

More information is available on the CLC website here.