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Using the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes and working with like-minded groups offshore, a building rating system for earthquake performance is currently under development. A star rating will help provide peace of mind and help achieve better buildings with reduced earthquake risk. The group will seek input from all building industry stakeholders, including banks, insurance companies, materials’ manufacturers, tenant groups, property owners, developers and industry sector associations, many of whom have already contributed positive feedback to date.

Earthquake Performance Buildings Rating Systems (“QuakeStar”) project.

Simply expressed, QuakeStar is the rating of a building so as to give all users, owners and other stakeholders in buildings an immediate, clear, concise, unambiguous and relevant understanding of a building’s ability to withstand earthquake damage.

Addressing three main issues – safety, cost to recover and business interruption time or time to recover – it draws on existing codes and evaluation tools, and can be displayed on a building, or simply readily available from some other source – online, for example, or a combination of both.
The concept has been mooted by engineers in NZ and California for 20-30 years, and has been thoroughly researched in USA with Federal Government support, for the last 5 years.
The NZ adaption by Dr Hopkins of the proposed USA system propounds a “Delphi” system of review of all relevant information as submitted by a building owner’s engineer in the engineering report on a building, the translation of that by an Earthquake Rating Authority in to a standard template which is then forwarded to a panel of 4-5 experts who report back to the Authority, giving a spread of results which are merged in to one rating.

It is not intended to be a precise measurement requiring lengthy, involved application of complicated design formulae, but a quick, expert assessment allowing public participation in decisions around buildings, and better communication of acceptable standards to owners, insurers, funders and investors.

Advantages of a star system are:

1. It allows a quick assessment of a building’s resilience by stakeholders such as visitors, guests, tenants, employees, owners, builders, banks, insurance companies and investors

2. It is communicated in an easily understood, internationally understandable “symbol” language

3. It can hasten decisions by funders, builders and designers, immediately providing a point of convergence of expert opinion

4. It can potentially give recognition to owners through lower insurance premiums, a wider tenant base, and a higher building value, to those who seek to build to the seismic conditions prevailing,

5. For engineers, it offers the comfort of approval, and possibly advice, from, respected peers, and giving the driver for a central forum or platform, for on-going discussion among engineers as to what is best practice, while communicating to stakeholders and the wider public the true value of good engineering practice,

6. It can be adopted internationally, (adjusted for each countries’ unique building materials and methods) and with the application of on-going peer reviews, good governance of the system, and the total integrity from those entrusted with its application, can give rise to an internationally respected body, or authority, allowing multi-national entities to make decisions on investment, funding and insurance on buildings without the necessity to examine and understand local codes and regulations, and the diligence of their application. The New Zealand Insurance industry relies substantially on offshore funding decision-makers – we need to set up an internationally respected Authority that can take expert advice to the those decision makers, gaining respect for that Authority – then we can secure insurance cover based on accurate information and sound construction best practice.

7. It can be applied to new and existing buildings –

a) for new buildings, it offers a set of easily-identifiable goals and aspirations which can give rise security to future generations

b) Given the current earthquake-prone nature of New Zealand, all existing buildings will be the subject of regular reviews as to soundness, both for insurance, for portfolio value purposes, and for wider on-going worker’s, tenants’ and visitors’ safety reasons – the introduction of the star concept to existing buildings should not therefore, (anticipating the effect of those reviews), unduly prejudice existing owners. On the contrary, it offers a quick and ready set of marketplace –recognised objectives for assisting with designing acceptable retrofits of sub-standard structures.

8. In the process of accumulating data on international best-practice method and materials, and applying best-practice, that expertise, experience and intellectual property can be exported and shared with countries or areas where there are deficiencies in the quality of engineering and design practices. For example, it is understood that NZ Civil Defence’s outcomes from a review of their post-quake performance is now being sought by developed nations who now want to know how to plan for what to do after quakes in built-up areas similar to Christchurch.

9. Overall, it puts a market pressure on building standards – bringing out and valuing excellent engineering best practice and identifying inferior practice – sunlight is the best disinfectant.

10. It can hasten the rebuild through achieving buy-in from the insurance industry’s accepting that such a system can be relied on as a valuable and respected risk assessment tool. The big insurance decisions are made overseas – we need to show that such an eventually international highly respected and credible authority can be relied on to give the best advice to insurers, for better risk assessment processes, and to enable owners to have a more objective comparison of the insurance contract cost and conditions.

IN addition, I would like an Earthquake Rating Authority to be looking at:

1. The law around landlord’s, owner’s and employer’s duty to disclose relevant, authoritative information to tenants, workers, visitors and guests immediately it comes to hand, and looking at more permanent changes to the standard ADLS Eighth Edition Sale and Purchase Agreement.

2. Working with insurers, designing insurance products that will be acceptable both cost-wise and condition-wise, in the marketplace, and providing the market with research on those products

3. The Territorial Authority building inspection regimes and how Councils are to cope, particularly in Christchurch, with the expected work volumes. Ensuring compliance with the granted rating in the case of new construction or retrofits is a must – this will affect the integrity and reputation of an Earthquake Rating Authority,

4. How an ERA can involve itself in the encouragement of the design of new methods and materials, and potentially reward innovation through an awards system, endorsement,

5. How best to capitalise on the depth of experience and accumulated expertise and knowledge arising from both engineering and geotechnical innovations and developments post Christchurch – a sales, or an international goodwill, opportunity?

Background to establishment of QuakeStar:

Bob Burnett, a well-accoladed Architectural Designer, successful Property Developer and the region’s first “Homestar” (Green Building) practitioner designer and assessor, was discussing with Don Holden the problems of obtaining insurance for new housing in Christchurch.

Bob had in mind a new building company, specialising in sustainable, quake resistant housing, and it was realised that they needed to go to the insurance companies with much more relevant and detailed structural information than prior to the quakes. They both saw that an engineering-driven rating system would greatly assist, and so envisioned the “QuakeStar” system, to rate their own buildings.

After contacting Dr Ron Mayes of California, they learnt that there was excellent USA research in to a rating system for all buildings available, and so Bob and Don saw the opportunity to develop the concept in New Zealand for a much wider audience of stakeholders which could potentially be utilised internationally. The concept had been contemplated by New Zealand engineers for at least 20 years, but nobody had taken the initiative to develop the concept – the rest, as they say, is history.

Bob and Don continue with their sustainable, quake-resilient future home concept, while putting a lot of their time in to the QuakeStar project, voluntarily at this stage with others such as Dr David Hopkins, Dr Richard Sharpe, and others, until the project is fully funded.

D C (Don) Holden LLB
Intelligent Deliverty of Business Law Solutions
NZ +64 (0)21 883 798