Capital must learn Christchurch lesson: Parker

ANTHONY HUBBARD AND MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013

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Christchurch mayor Bob Parker suggests Wellington should choose which of its heritage buildings it wants to preserve from earthquakes "because there is not enough money to save them all".

He also says people need a more user-friendly earthquake safety code so that those "without an engineering degree" can decide whether to enter an old building.

And he says ordinary people can take steps of their own to avoid catastrophic damage in an earthquake.

Parker was asked what lessons he had learned from the Canterbury earthquakes that might be useful to Wellingtonians in the wake of last Sunday's 6.5-magnitude quake, which caused widespread damage across the capital.

He said the Wellington community, with the city council and central government, should decide which of its heritage buildings it wanted to preserve and which it was prepared to lose.

"There isn't enough money in the kitty - I doubt that there's enough money in the country to [bring] every beautiful old building in every town of New Zealand up to an earthquake code so it can survive," Parker said.

That meant making hard choices - "and sooner rather than later", he said.

"What we've all learned is that these [earthquakes] are random events, there's no telling when they're going to happen.

"You should make the assumption that it could happen sooner rather than later, and there is a degree of urgency in ensuring that you put these support structures in place." Strengthening could be done through government grants, or tax breaks for "rigorously chosen" repairs.

Parker, a former Wellington resident, said the city was "unthinkable" without iconic - and earthquake-prone - buildings such as St Gerard's Monastery in Oriental Bay.

Parker said some buildings classified as earthquake-prone had survived the Canterbury earthquakes.

The rating could reflect the fact that "there's an old brick chimney at the back and that's a brittle component that brings the overall rating down.

"So you remove that and suddenly you've got a building that's not earthquake prone."

Likewise some old historic timber buildings which would have been classified earthquake-prone came through the terrible Canterbury earthquake unscathed.

Engineers needed to design a more user-friendly classification so people would know before they entered an old building what the real risk was.

"I don't have an answer as to how to do that," he said, but that was a task for engineers.

"That's what we pay the guys the bucks to do."

Parker had seen a news report about a Wellington bottle store where stock had fallen off shelves and smashed.

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The Canterbury experience was that quite simple steps, such as redesigning shelves or putting glass fronts on them, could prevent such damage and save owners from rocketing insurance premiums.

SMART APP MAKES YOU STAND OUT IN AN EMERGENCY

A St John ambulance volunteer has designed a smartphone app that allows you to send a panic message using your phone's GPS co-ordinates.

Designer Grant Dewar came up with the idea while volunteering as an ambulance officer in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes. "Wellington could certainly have used it last weekend. It's all about being prepared."

The free app allows you to fire off a text or voice call to close contacts or emergency services to tell them you need help.

He said in emergencies people often didn't know where they were - and the panic message would automatically give global positioning system (GPS) co-ordinates giving a location. He said that would help, particularly in rural or bush locations.

It also provided your phone number, which many people forgot when panicked, Dewar said.

"So that information is passed on in a nice clear format to allow emergency services to provide a quick response."

Other features of his HELP app allowed people to bring up personal medical details, and, if no help was needed, but a person was caught in a major crisis the app lets someone send an "I'm OK" message.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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