Wellington Earthquake Highlights Lack of Engineers

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Thursday, July 25th, 2013
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Port Wellington Earthquake
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The occurrence of a 6.5 Richer earthquake in the Cook Strait near the New Zealand capital of Wellington over the weekend has served to highlight the problem of insufficient numbers of structural engineers.

While the city’s building stock managed to weather the weekend earthquake with impressive success, the subsequent strain placed on consulting firms required to provide safety inspections in the wake of the incident has drawn attention to the country’s scarcity of engineering professionals.

Engineers had to be flown in to Wellington from other parts of the country to provide structural assessments of buildings affected by the earthquake, due to insufficient numbers in the New Zealand capital itself.

David Prentice, chief executive with international infrastructure consultancy Opus, said the firm’s structural engineers had been swamped from work since Sunday, necessitating the importation of staff members from Nelson and Auckland.

Opus employs around 250 staff in Wellington, of which around 30 are structural engineers suited to the task of building safety assessment.

“We weren’t able to get through all the work that we had on our books yesterday (Monday) and are continuing to do that over the next two or three days.”

According to Mr. Prentice New Zealand has long suffered from a scarcity of structural engineers.

“I think if you talk to any engineering firm throughout the country they would tell you that they can’t get enough structural engineers, and that has been the mantra for so long.”

While New Zealand may suffer from a lack of structural engineering resources, according to experts Wellington’s buildings held up quite well during the 6.5 Richter earthquakes, as well as the subsequent wave of incessant aftershocks.

Andrew Cleland, chief executive of the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand, said an assessment of the Cook Strait tremor concluded that at its peak its energy was only a 20 to 25 per cent of new building standards.

According to Mr. Cleland assessments focusing on the exterior of buildings had uncovered no major structural weaknesses thus  far.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said that the fact that the earthquake resulted in only four minor injuries indicated that Wellington was “well-built and well-prepared.”

Many engineers say there nonetheless remain areas of improvement in the city’s earthquake preparedness, including measures to reduce or strengthen the large number of interior fittings and tiles which were shaken loose by the tremor.

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