State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes backs stringent earthquake checks for government buildings
Government agencies have been warned that engineering checks of earthquake-affected buildings are "not for amateurs", State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes says.
Workers at science facility Niwa were reportedly told to steer clear of their Greta Point offices in Evans Bay following the magnitude-7.8 earthquake due to a lack of proper checks.
The Public Service Association (PSA) claimed a manager, not an engineer, had undertaken the initial inspection of the building before allowing workers to return. The PSA later said Niwa chief executive John Morgan had informed staff that a structural engineer had inspected the site.
Speaking to Parliament's government administration committee, Hughes said the State Services Commission had made it clear from the start that properly qualified structural engineers had to carry out building assessments, while Hughes had worked with chief executives on how to ensure the checks were up to standard.
"This is not a task for amateurs."
He had asked government agencies to make early contact with unions and keep them informed of checks and repairs, while me met the Public Service Association last week to review what had been done so far.
Hughes said of the approximately 32,000 state servants in Wellington, about 5000 had been displaced from their normal offices due to the earthquakes.
Government agencies had been "pretty successful" in getting most workers back into their buildings, while business continuity plans had kicked in to ensure services were maintained for Kiwis.
About 620 staff from Statistics NZ and the Ministry of Transport who worked in Statistics House were being relocated across two different buildings, with almost all staff expected to be back in an office by Christmas.
About 300 staff at Environment House, which was expected to be cleared for reentry in about four to six weeks, were now based at the Terrace, while about 1100 Ministry of Defence and NZ Defence Force staff were based at the Freyberg Building or at the Trentham military facility while damage to Defence House was assessed.
LESSONS LEARNED AFTER EARLIER QUAKES
Hughes said most buildings in the government portfolio had performed well, with the exception of Statistics House.
"That's not to say there wasn't a mess - modern code-compliant buildings will move around a bit and there will be quite a bit of mess, but they are designed to avoid damage to human beings or fatalities."
While the chief executives of individual agencies were responsible for their own buildings, Hughes said they were meeting as a group weekly, with property managers working together as a single team.
"We have quite a bit of property expertise in various departments: you can imagine Corrections builds a lot of stuff, so we're sharing that around so that everybody has access to all the expertise they need."
Asked what lessons government agencies had learned after previous earthquakes, such as in 2013, Hughes said many had outsourced their data storage to specialist providers in secure locations to avoid "downtime" after a significant shake.
"This time around we've been able to get all the ICT back up pretty quickly, whereas last time around that was a bit of a problem."