Council building inspectors train for natural disasters
Kāpiti Coast District Council building inspectors are being put through their paces for quickly assessing the safety of buildings in a natural disaster in a training exercise next week (15 November).
Building team manager Steve Cody says the recent floods and landslides in Nelson, Westport and Wellington highlighted the need to be prepared.
“People think ‘it won’t happen to me’ but when it does, we need to be able to act quickly and effectively to keep people safe. We have to think about the immediate safety of the occupiers of affected properties, but also the first responders and emergency services, then the people who turn up to help the owner evacuate, clean up or repair the building.
“We need to be able to rapidly assess buildings for safety and the likelihood of further deterioration as the situation can change very swiftly, especially following landslides and earthquakes,” he said.
Since the Christchurch earthquakes, New Zealanders have become familiar with red and yellow stickers appearing on buildings. These indicate whether people must stay out completely (red) or can go in briefly to retrieve important items (yellow), usually under the supervision of emergency services.
“We haven’t had to make such assessments for real in Kāpiti since the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, so it's important to keep our skills up,” Mr Cody said.
“The team has to be prepared to make good judgement calls based on experience, training and instinct at a time when people are under enormous stress, but safety always comes first.”
For the training exercise, teams are being sent out into the field to random areas with mocked up photos of damaged buildings. They will do a rapid visual assessment to determine the status of the building.
“We undertake regular training for emergencies, but it’s a big ask to take the whole team away from its day-to-day duties processing and inspecting building consent applications. We try to make it as realistic as possible to stress test our judgement and processes.
“This has to be more than a desk-top exercise because we want to test the technology too. The teams are sent out to various locations and will have to load information from the site into their phones and tablets and communicate effectively with those back at the emergency operations centre,” Mr Cody said.
“Officers will look for signs such as damage to the building such as being out of alignment or structural damage as well as noticeable issues or risk with surrounding land that may exacerbate the situation.
“The initial assessment is never set in stone especially as some structural problems can’t necessarily be seen with the naked eye, or the stability of the building may deteriorate due to aftershocks or further land slippage.
“If your house has to be assessed in a real emergency, and once our team has done its job, it's up to the building owner to work with their insurer and their own experts on decisions around repairing or demolishing the building after the initial phase of the emergency is over.”
Find out how to be prepared in an emergency on the Council website at kapiticoast.govt.nz/cdem