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Building Our Resilience

“What state are our buildings in?”

This is a key question, and one that clients throughout New Zealand are asking us. Right now, we are working closely with a range of clients in undertaking detailed seismic assessments and upgrades.

There’s a lot of emotion in the market at present around the “new building standard”. We believe our clients are far better served by establishing a series of performance criteria for buildings, designed to withstand various levels of earthquake intensity. There are some simple steps that can be taken to increase resilience for moderate earthquakes, and provide life safety and collapse prevention in the event of a large earthquake.

One seismic size does not fit all

Experience has taught us that forging ahead with a technical solution before gaining extensive knowledge of a building and a client’s requirements of that building can waste not only time, but a lot of money.

So in addition to reviewing the building’s structure, history and regulatory requirements, we ask, “What is the optimum level of building performance for your business?” This takes into account how a programme of seismic strengthening fits within specific business continuity planning and risk management strategies.

The key to a successful programme of seismic strengthening is to balance prudence with what’s practical and financially achievable. Rather than simply follow the Building Code, a performance-based approach considers the organisation’s needs and investment appetite. It enables building owners to make informed decisions based on risk versus cost – in conjunction with their insurers – around the extent of seismic strengthening needed.

Selecting rehabilitation objectives begins with three key considerations:

1. The seismic hazard to your property/asset.
2. The desired level of building performance: what’s necessary, what’s possible?
3. How much you should, and can spend.

For example, if premises are for essential services, there is a need for higher performance that may include immediate occupancy and relatively seamless operation. A property with historical or cultural significance will require additional considerations. As RDT Pacific has had considerable previous experience in seismic strengthening, I believe we have both the ability and the responsibility – to guide clients through this process. This experience makes it possible to provide tailored seismic strengthening advice for both new builds and existing buildings.

RDT Pacific’s performance-based approach recognises four levels of seismic performance:

Collapse Prevention. The structure has avoided collapse: however, the building may be entirely written off by the insurer, requiring a rebuild.
Life Safety. The structure, while remaining safe for exit, may require extensive repair and possibly replacement.
Immediate Occupancy. The structure can be used for its primary application immediately or within 24 hours of an event.
Operational. All systems important to normal operation are functional. For essential and emergency services, or in the cases of historic structures of high significance.

Experience has taught us that forging ahead with a technical solution before gaining extensive knowledge of a building and a client’s requirements of that building can waste not only time, but a lot of money.”
– Timothy Cope, RDT Pacific Associate Director