Churches get quake assessment

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 18:41 17/02/2014

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A team of international experts will study New Zealand's churches to assess which are the most vulnerable to earthquakes.

Scientists from New Zealand, Italy and Portugal will spend the next two years developing a "seismic vulnerability index" for unreinforced masonry churches.

The research will help owners of heritage buildings make decisions on retrofitting to prevent damage in earthquakes.

The team plans to use data from 48 churches in Canterbury which were damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

It will also include data from 11 churches in Wellington, 50 in Auckland and 29 in Dunedin..

The project would be based on a method already used in Europe to assess the vulnerability of churches and monuments, but calibrated for New Zealand conditions.

"At present there is no standard or systematic way to assess the earthquake vulnerability of churches nationwide," project leader Tatiana Goded, of GNS Science, said.

"The project is a first step towards assessing all historic buildings in the country, to preserve New Zealand's cultural and historical heritage."

University of Canterbury research engineer Sonia Giovinazzi said the team would identify the most at-risk churches by looking at characteristics like geometry, building features, and age.

It would then prepare guidelines and recommend intervention to make the buildings safer.

Researchers from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Catholic archdiocese of Wellington are collaborating with the project.

Archdiocese of Wellington director of support services David Mullin said the research would lead on from their own Project Stronger, which identified buildings that did not meet current standards.

"We've moved on from assessment onto deciding what we need to do next in terms of improvement, and how to go about that in the most cost-effective way," he said.

"Before we spend millions of dollars upgrading our heritage buildings, we'd like to ensure ... [after a seismic event] they can continue to be able to be used."

The Earthquake Commission has committed $50,000 to the project.

The researchers expect to present their findings at the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering's annual meeting in 2015, and the world conference on earthquake engineering in Chile in 2016.


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- © Fairfax NZ News

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