Emergency services in quake-prone buildings

19:40, Aug 19 2012

A dozen buildings identified as potentially earthquake-prone by the Southland District Council are used by emergency services or civil defence.

Southland District Council building control manager Kevin O'Conner said the district council issued the owners of about 105 commercial buildings with Land Information Memorandum (LIM) notices earlier this year, advising them their buildings had been identified as potentially earthquake-prone.

Twelve were used by emergency services, and seven of the 12 were used by Emergency Management Southland as civil defence buildings, including welfare centres, he said.

He would not name the buildings identified as potentially earthquake-prone but said it was public information.

Some buildings identified as potentially earthquake-prone were owned by the district council, he said.

Almost all of the 105 buildings were in use, he said.


Last year the district council wrote to all commercial building owners advising them of changes to its earthquake-prone policy.

The minimum level for structural upgrade under the district council's policy is 34 per cent of the new building standard, with a recommendation that owners of identified buildings consider upgrading to 67 per cent.

The council surveyed the exterior of buildings throughout the district to determine which were potentially earthquake-prone.

It then recommended owners of buildings issued with LIM notices had an engineer's assessment completed.

Mr O'Conner said he knew of two owners who had received an engineer's report.

Emergency Management Southland manager Neil Cruickshank said while it was a concern, long-term he believed a solution would be found for most of the locations.

However, he did not believe the public should be alarmed.

"I think there's always going to be cause for improvement but I think, by and large, everyone's looking at it in the right way."

Further work would be done to determine what would happen in the future, he said.

In some cases, building owners would take steps to bring the properties up to the required standard or, where that was not possible, EMS may find alternative sites, he said. How long that process might take was "a pretty tricky question".

"I think from our perspective, we'll have a pretty clear idea in 12 months which buildings are suitable as welfare centres, but there could be some long-term work for the owners. Ideally, we'd like to know straight away but that's not realistic," he said.

The buildings issued with LIM notices could still be used in an emergency, he said.

"It really depends on the emergency. We're really only talking about earthquake-prone buildings but there are a lot of other emergencies that could occur. The reality of it is, is it's not an exact science, no matter which building you go into, and I think history has shown that in the last couple of years," he said.

He also declined to say which buildings were affected, because they were not owned by EMS.

Although police building files are confidential, Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd confirmed one police building in Southland was issued with a LIM notice.

He declined to say which station.

Police national property managers were working through the process of assessing potentially earthquake-prone buildings throughout the country, he said.

"It's one of our small stations and my understanding is it's not a high-risk, but we do acknowledge there will be some remedial work required and that's what we're working through at the moment," he said.

St John communications and promotions co-ordinator Alena Lynch said she did not know if its buildings were affected, but said the organisation was doing a nationwide evaluation of its properties.

"That's ongoing work as we speak, we're certainly not taking anything for granted. As an emergency service, we're obviously taking this really seriously."

New Zealand Fire Service Southland area manager Bruce Stubbs also said he did not know whether any fire service buildings had been identified by the district council as potentially earthquake-prone.

In December, Invercargill City Council building services manager Simon Tonkin refused to reveal the outcome of external inspections on central city buildings.

The city council completed external inspections of more than 200 buildings using a standard checklist that looked at loose and missing plaster and mortar, brickwork, bowed wall, parapet damage and veranda damage.

The Southland Times has complained to the office of the ombudsmen, saying the public has a right to know which buildings have initially been deemed susceptible to damage in the event of an earthquake.


The Southland Times