We'll close more buildings, say quake engineers

Posted 26 Feb 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
This item was posted on the Stuff.co.nz website - click here to view the original


Merivale Mall

CLOSED: Parts of Merivale Mall were closed because of earthquake risk.

merivale mall

Engineers inspecting Christchurch's quake-hit buildings for damage are becoming increasingly cautious in their assessments for fear of litigation if they make a wrong call, building insiders say.

More buildings in the city will be shut down over the coming weeks because engineers are unwilling to guarantee their safety in the event of another major quake, the sources say.

In the past month several high-profile buildings in Christchurch, including a large section of upmarket Merivale Mall and the Carlton Court building on the corner of Bealey Ave and Papanui Road, have been cordoned off because engineers have raised concerns about their structural integrity.

A building industry insider said the reason so many buildings were being shut down now was because engineers had been spooked by the recent Royal Commission of Inquiry hearings during which members of their profession had come under fire from lawyers eager to apportion blame for building failures in the February 22 earthquake.

"The engineers after September 4 pitched in and did the best they could and now they feel they are being subjected to a trial of hindsight," the insider said.

"They feel they're the ones in the firing line and that the blame for what went wrong is falling on their shoulders, so a lot of them have gone very conservative and are shutting things down."

Commercial building owners in Christchurch have been asked by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) to engage engineers to complete detailed engineering evaluations of their properties so that the authority can get an accurate picture of which buildings in the city are earthquake prone.

So far it has received 179 completed evaluations but reports from more than 450 building owners remain outstanding.

A front-line engineer, who asked not to be named, said the task facing engineers working in Christchurch was unprecedented and many of his colleagues felt under enormous pressure.

"If we miss anything and we get another big quake and something goes wrong, then we're the ones who are going to be blamed so the pressure to get it right is huge," the engineer said.

"Nobody wants to make a wrong call, so yes, we are being cautious – maybe overly so in come cases – but what option do we have? We're not going to sign off a building as safe unless we're damn sure it is because it is our arses on the line."

Institute of Professional Engineers chief executive Dr Andrew Cleland said the work the engineers have been doing over the past year was emotionally and intellectually demanding, and often they were being asked to make critical decisions within very tight time-frames.

Engineers expected to come under scrutiny, but the concern of many in Christchurch was that the public did not fully appreciate the conditions they were working in.

"People need to understand the highly pressured environment they were working in and the speed they were asked to work at meant often there was simply not enough time to collect large amounts of information before they were expected to make judgments," Cleland said.

Sweet-shop owner Nat Cheyne accepts that safety comes first but questions the time it is taking to make decisions on the fate of some buildings. His Riccarton Rd business was one of five forced to close this month when an engineer working on behalf of a loss adjustor raised concerns with Cera. The building was yellow-stickered and Cheyne and the other tenants are now in "limbo land" while they wait to find out whether it will be issued with a red sticker and demolished.Since the two big quakes on December 23, around 20 additional buildings or commercial areas in Christchurch and the surrounding area have been either yellow or red-stickered as a result of assessments by engineers.

"I can understand their over-caution in what they are doing but they just need to make decisions quicker," Cheyne said.

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore worries the scrutiny engineers are under will have implications for the rebuild of the CBD. He fears they will take a very conservative approach to building design. "If we are not very careful Christchurch is going to be redesigned by lawyers and engineers."

- © Fairfax 

Ella   #21   04:03 pm Feb 26 2012


The comments from the engineers sound close to a form of blackmail. If we think we'll face the possibility of litigation we'll close your building down, they seem to be saying! I totally agree that buildings need to be as safe as possible, and safety comes out miles ahead of business dollars - but the article hints that the engineers' motivation is fear of legal action, not concern over safety! Despite what the engineers say, just after 4 Sept, and even after 22 Feb, the attitude of inspections left a lot to be desired. Comments like, "you can live in it, but if there's an aftershock don't go to a doorway - just run", "that wall might fall, but you don't sleep in the lounge do you", and "I'm not saying you can live in it, I'm not saying you can't live in it - how do you feel about the house?" Yikes, this was the attitude that led to problems. Now the pendulum has swung the other way with steroids!! How about some common sense!!


K.S.JOHNS   #20   03:39 pm Feb 26 2012




Flux   #19    via mobile 03:10 pm Feb 26 2012


@17 Whatever I say I'll get knocked back. It's a shame people are hitting us hard making us look like the evil of all evil. I know I do my job right. Lived here all my life.


anne   #18   03:03 pm Feb 26 2012


Why are we listenting to the musings of former payors? ChCh is doing its very best to rebuild and move on in very trying times...Heaven forbid people like Gary Moore actuallly contribute, instead of more navel gazing. Buildings need to be safe for us to occupy - bottom line. Building owners and insurance companies need to accept that as a baseline. Buildings in NZ were only ever designed to allow people to leave the buildign safely in an eartyhquake, not necessarily be safe to occupy after such enormous earthquakes as we have had.


@Flux #16   #17   02:23 pm Feb 26 2012


Our house (in Burwood) was inspected after the first quake. The engineer just walked around the outside of the house a couple of times, never went inside, never even looked under the house... and charged us $350+GST. Maybe what you are saying SOMETIMES happens or SHOULD happen, but not always does... just like with WOFs on cars.


Flux   #16   01:58 pm Feb 26 2012


I work for a structural engineering company which checks residential houses and commercial buildings. Our charges start at $350+gst to structurally inspect a 3 bedroom residential house. The inspection will normal take about 1 and half hours depending on what I find (if I'm picking up noticeable problems with the house it can be pushed out to 3-5+ hours). I do all floor levels and wall plumbs, under floor checking of piles/connections and inspection of the roof space. I also pick up on other defects that are not EQ damage related that would cause problems later down the road and inform what we find. I also state on the reports cosmetic damages that I KNOW are EQ damage that EQC should be including in their scope of work. Once the inspection in complete I have to discuss the inspection with my boss reviewing photos, floor levels, wall plumbs and drawings to come to a conclusion. There is a cost for my time on site, boss and myself discussing the issues found, another person handling all the data at the office and travel/fuel costs. On top of this we have people ringing us days later about the inspections and want to know how to fix issues we found so we try to help the best we can but some issues require more work than others and is not something you can answer over the phone. We limit ourselves to 3 inspections a day to allow plenty of time to go over a property and make sure that we are happy. I have picked up many things that EQC fail to find eg: 4 concrete piles under a house that have split vertical from top to bottom (cracks were 15-20mm open, these are 500mm tall piles near load bearing walls) because EQC inspector never went under the floor as the owners stated or into the roof space where I picked up on an under


buzzwords   #15   12:58 pm Feb 26 2012


Typical of NZ - structural integrity and earthquake risk are just the new buzzwords.... no-one cares about the people, it's all about liability and $$$$.


David   #14   12:47 pm Feb 26 2012


Yes, what about the integrity of The Palms. In the past 2 weeks I've had dozens of people tell me it's not safe. I'd rather the engineers err on the side of caution.


Cynic   #13   12:43 pm Feb 26 2012


" We're not going to sign off a building as safe unless we're damn sure it is because it is our arses on the line."

Actually, isn't it the responsibility of the owner of the property to do what needs to be done to make the building safe? Not the engineer. Ask an engineer do you think this is a safe building, and give them the parameters to work within...is it going to stand up to another quake, is it safe to occupy. Ask the engineer what their minimum requirements for the building to compy with the earthquake code is? If the engineer is worth his salt, he would have looked at the plans of the building - that what takes the time, then having to quantify costs, then having to go tho the insurance company to get their assessor to quantify risk, then back to the engineer to QS, and then it passes to the owners to make a decision. Ask the insurance company what their 'minimum risk' is? 70% 80% of rebuild costings? Sorry for all those tenants of buildings deemed 'unsafe' but your beef should be with the landlord, not the engineer.

Final Decision: The Owner


John Spragg   #12   12:36 pm Feb 26 2012


Are there any really competent engineers available? What with the leaky homes fiasco costing the country billions - dangerous buildings in Christchurch being given the okay after the first earthquake - how dare some of these 'supposed engineers' charge so much for their time? If people have been killed or could be killed due to incompetency - there must be an accounting. Perhaps nowadays - if you want to find a capable engineer - perhaps you might have to go to a cemetery and dig one up?


Borana   #11   12:32 pm Feb 26 2012


#4 - you forgot about Mother Nature and the person(s) who thought it was a good idea to build a city on a swamp and volcanic rock. Let’s sue them....oh, that’s right, it was a 170 years ago. Damn! Let’s go with the Government. Don’t worry, us taxpayers will foot the bill. Plan B is the Council. And never fear, us ratepayers will stump up as well.

I agree with #5 - let’s take a step back - we have suffered a massive series of unprecedented and who is to say they are over? There would be very few "safe" buildings to be in should another large one occur. To be totally safe, we may as well shut up shop and wait until every below par building or structure has gone and been replaced with ones deemed "safe".

I didn’t really have anything planned for the next ten years anyway and as #4 says, everything will be paid for by any of the 4 below mentioned parties.....yeah right!


Matt   #10   12:25 pm Feb 26 2012


Will be bad news for Christchurch if more of the malls were shutdown, especially one the size of Riccarton...


Andy   #9   12:16 pm Feb 26 2012


All very well saying that Steph ,but NO building is safe if we get a big enough quake .It`s all a matter of how much protection we want AND CAN AFFORD . . How SAFE is your car, has it all the latest safety features.i bet not,yet you`ve more chance of getting killed in that !!


Steph   #8   11:08 am Feb 26 2012


I do not envy their job at all, the pressure to get it right from all sides is immense. I would far rather they made calls erring on the side of caution for all buildings so I can confidently allow my kids to go anywhere and into any building.


nickt1   #7   11:00 am Feb 26 2012


Gary Moore is correct, engineers are becoming planners,designers and project managers of the rebuild witch is leading to delays,cost blow outs and poor design. What we are witnessing is not engineering but liability control-throw away the calculator,open the book ,choose the highest specifications possible and to hell with the consequences because nothing will happen without the engineer's signature. If engineer's are so over worked and stressed out then may'be more can be attracted from elsewhere-a bit of competition might be good for the industry.



lost my workplace   #6   10:56 am Feb 26 2012


I hope if the engineers close a building because they are being over cautious and its deemed safe, I hope they have enough insurance to pay the business owner for loss of earnings,


Rhonda Ross   #5   10:07 am Feb 26 2012


" We're not going to sign off a building as safe unless we're damn sure it is because it is our arses on the line." Excuse me, but isn't it about public safety and doing your best to try to avoid further loss of life? When did it suddenly become about reputation. I can't believe this. Everyone needs to take a step back and have a re-think.


Apen   #4   10:06 am Feb 26 2012


Deary me, they are now sticking it to the engineers, oh my.

What about the insurance companies?

The owners of the buildings?

National government?

Local government?

The earthquakes didn't kill the people, the buildings did!


Bob The Builder   #3    via mobile 09:48 am Feb 26 2012


Speculation is rife as to the integrity of The Palms. What's the story?


ralph   #2   09:11 am Feb 26 2012


No building is really safe , has any one read the press report on the quake history of chch . go to the press online and read From the archives... 'canterbury has a shaky history',,,, We were warned many years ago this would happen and no one took any notice . I suggest you serch the past quake history , makes interesting reading



steve   #1   08:40 am Feb 26 2012


Don`t want to take any blame eh .But they are all happy to pocket massive fees of $200-400 bucks and hr,and then also ask a tradesmans advise and expect it free !!! i know, i`ve dealt with them . Come on` engineers`, you can`t have it all ways .


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