Wellington Council eyes new quake-response tech

5:40 pm on 20 April 2017

A new type of measuring device installed in buildings around the capital could help provide quicker information about the safety of various areas following a large earthquake.

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A passer-by stands in front of two sculptures on Wellington's Lambton Quay (file). It is hoped the devices will help improve safety in the city. Photo: 123rf

Wellington City Council head of innovation Philippa Bowron said, at the moment, earthquake measuring methods did not indicate ground acceleration or other forces on buildings.

She said the project was still in its infancy, but if accelerometers were installed in about 400 commercial buildings the data gathered could prove to be useful.

"We'll get a variety of different building construction materials, different building heights and shapes and buildings that are built on different soil types, so if we get a good enough spread of those we can tell what's happened with pretty much every single building in the city."

Veteran property developer Mark Dunajtschik, however, doubted the devices would have much practical use.

He pointed to results obtained from a seismograph between two buildings in Wellington after last November's 7.8 magnitude Kaikōura earthquake.

"Two different buildings on either side performed totally different, so how they can get a practical use out of it is beyond me... because the difference of the result on the building despite the same shaking was absolutely different."

Mr Dunajtschik said if the council offered to install the accelerometers in his buildings he would take them, as long as there was no cost to him.

Ms Bowron said no decision on funding the devices had been made yet.

She said their key benefit would be enabling Civil Defence to make good decisions about which areas of the city were safest after a significant earthquake.

"We're always going to get variations in Wellington from building to building because there's different construction types and soil type changes quite quickly across the city.

"But I think having a saturation of around about a third of the buildings will give us a really good view."

Wellington's Chamber of Commerce welcomed the possible introduction of the devices and said the cost should be shared between the government, ratepayers and building owners.

Its chief executive, John Milford, said they would give the city's 58,000 commuters more confidence in what was going on with their workplaces, which would also have an impact on productivity.

"If people are concerned, if they have fears, if they don't like being where they are because they don't know, then that impacts on profitability, so I think that human factor as well is a big one in this."

Ms Bowron said it would be a couple of months before any decisions were made about introducing the accelerometers.

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