Insurance and exposure of earthquakes in Australia and New Zealand: BVT's response to the ABCB Guidance Document.
Recently, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) released a guidance document on seismic restraint of non-structural building elements. The ABCB created this guidance document after several states highlighted the need for emphasis. For those that have been working in this field for many years, this guidance document is business as usual. However, for our clients and colleagues that are seeing this for the first time, we've compiled our top 5 facts that you should know about non-structural seismic engineering, or NSSE, as the field is known.
#1 - NSSE has always been in the NCC, just not highly emphasised up to this point. However, with the increased focus on code compliance in Australia, that has changed.
#2 - Australia does get earthquakes. Just not very often. As this article by the insurers points out, the very fact that Australia doesn't get earthquakes very often doesn't work in our favour, as we tend to ignore it and therefore are less prepared.
#3 - With the capital cost of vertical structure being up to 80% interiors and services, the loss from a seismic event due to lack of NSSE can be dramatic. Our experiences with the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes in NZ certainly proved that.
#4 - The cost to effectively secure NSBE is typically low, if it can be integrated early in the design process. Additional cost could be as low as 5%, if non structural seismic engineering design is integrated across all NSBE. Compared to the total loss of your building interiors, this is a very good investment! (Not to mention, required for code compliance).
#5 - There is a profession of non-structural seismic engineers that can answer your questions. The best have first-hand experience with earthquakes, and a can-do attitude when working with the construction industry.
Whilst regulation and compliance measures around NSSE are firmly in place across New Zealand, the relaxed attitude in Australia is certainly synonymous with the reduced risk of seismic movement. We understand the commercial pressures of the space and acknowledge that on the scale of things to be concerned about, NSSE is not a priority for the Australian building industry. However, the dial is beginning to turn.
The Western Australian government recently reinforced NSSE regulations and the building code board are beginning to shift their attention to the matter. As a general rule, we expect industry players won't pay attention until they need to, but adopting best practice NSBE into the early stages of design process will safeguard projects against future regulation changes, which we believe are imminent.
So whilst there may not be a burning pressure to comply now, when it's time - you know who to call.