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News | Rebuilding Canterbury

Taking the  out of quakes By Bridget Gourlay

One of the deadliest earthquakes of all time occurred in Portugal’s capital in 1755. Believed to be nearly a nine on the Richter scale, the Lisbon earthquake was followed by fires and a tsunami, killing up to 100,000 people in the surrounding countries it affected. The Portuguese empire never recovered. Three hundred years later, and our buildings are made of much stronger stuff, as we’ve witnessed in Christchurch. Other than the collapse of the CTV and PGG Wrightson buildings, most of our modern buildings held up extremely well. Current building design protects lives via sacrificial damage, protecting the occupants much like cars in a crash. The buildings stay up through earthquakes but later need repair or to be knocked down.

Retro-fit accuators: Concrete and steel connections using lead extrusion dampers directly in the joint to save buildings.

Structures are merely a collection of beams, columns, and structural elements. Buildings, homes, businesses or hospitals are simply a whole matrix of intersections joining these

not to diminish the 181 who lost their lives here, but it has become extremely small. “Meanwhile, the actual cost of GDP to a country has stayed the same. Christchurch’s earthquakes will be about 15-25 percent of GDP. We’ve got very good at saving lives. The next step — and it sounds mercenary — is about saving money.”

But just like in 1755, big earthquakes leave extensive damage. Homes can’t be lived in, businesses can’t open, hospitals can’t provide Energy absorbtion critical services, and in Christchurch the entire That’s why Chase and a team of Canterbury CBD has been shut for months. The damage to engineers — Lance Cleeve, Geoff Rodgers, New Zealand’s economy from this event will Greg MacRae and Doug Heaton — have last for years. created a new type of building dissipator. “Using a high capacity energy dissipating “If you look through time to the Lisbon earthquake there were thousands of deaths,” device (with lead inside) fitted into the joint itself, these dissipators absorb energy with Canterbury University’s Dr Geoff Chase says. every shake, causing almost no damage to “According to a study I read, it cost them the structure. about 20-25 percent of GDP. Today the lives Unlike other damage-free earthquake lost as a percentage of population have gone engineering technologies, these dissipators down to become extremely small. That’s

elements. So an earthquake damaged building equal a whole matrix of these damaged joints. Conversely, damage-free joints equals damage-free structures. The idea is to use concrete and steel connections using lead extrusion dampers directly in the joint.

only cost between $100 and $400 and can be retro-fitted to existing buildings. The team believes that with these dissipators, if there is another big earthquake, then people will be able to go back to work quickly afterwards. The devastating affect the earthquakes have had on businesses, especially SMEs, would be minimised. “Our fathers and grandfathers had some great ideas about how to make buildings life safe,” Greg MacRae says. “What was done in the 1980s with 80s technology was to make buildings that would stay up during an earthquake and everyone would get out. “What we’re trying to work towards is a building that is made with 2000s technology that will not only protect life, but mean the structure is useable after an earthquake.

“Think of a cellphone from 1980s — they worked but were clunky and expensive and the batteries needed to be charged all the time,” MacRae says. Lance Cleeve and Doug Heaton have set up a business selling the dissipators but the team has had a hard time getting the industry to change its thinking, even though their design has held up well to extensive testing. “The words ‘first mover’ and ‘civil engineer’ don’t usually go in the same sentence unless there’s something like ‘are not’ in between. That’s the real problem,” Chase says. “Design codes have done a lot to increase consistency and improve performance of structures but they’ve now regimented people’s thinking that things can only be done in one way.” For more information contact

Making energy savings pay Operating in an environmentally friendly way has, generally, cost money — but you take the hit because it’s the right thing to do. Well, this might not be so for much longer.

saving measures, with individual businesses’ eligible for up to $30,000. Any company spending less than $300,000 annually on energy per site, could qualify.

A new programme now means Christchurch SMEs can get up to $30,000 towards improving their energy use.

The Council will offer Energising Business grants to members of its Target Sustainability scheme for businesses. The scheme, which has been running for four years, has worked with over 130 companies to assist them reduce waste and costs, and run more efficiently.

The Christchurch City Council has been contracted under the Government’s Energising Business programme to help companies reduce energy use and costs.

EECA chief executive Mike Underhill says a more energy efficient and competitive business sector could benefit the whole Canterbury region.

Run by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), Energising Business covers up to a third of the cost of identifying and putting in place energy-

“Energy savings go straight to the bottom line, making businesses more robust, productive and competitive, which is good for the region and for

6 | October/November 2011

the country. Particularly at a time when many Christchurch companies are facing rebuilding, it’s an excellent time to consider energy use and how those savings are locked in — strengthening business for years to come.” Many significant energy saving measures paid for themselves in a year or less, Underhill says. Christchurch City Council Water and Waste manager Mark Christison says the initiative is good news. “This funding will help eligible businesses, who we have already been working with through our Target Sustainability initiatives, in their efforts to become more energy efficient.” To find out more about Christchurch City Council’s Target Sustainability programme visit

Canterbury Today Magazine Issue#109  

Issue #109 of Canterbury Magazine