Understanding post-earthquake decisions on multi-storey concrete buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand

The 2010–2011 Canterbury earthquakes, which involved widespread damage during the February 2011 event and ongoing aftershocks near the Christchurch Central Business District, left this community with more than $NZD 40 billion in losses (~20 % GDP), demolition of approximately 60 % of multi-storey concrete buildings (3 storeys and up), and closure of the core business district for over 2 years. The aftermath of the earthquake sequence has revealed unique issues and complexities for the owners of commercial and multi-storey residential buildings in relation to unexpected technical, legal, and financial challenges when making decisions regarding the future of their buildings impacted by the earthquakes. The paper presents a framework to understand the factors influencing post-earthquake decisions (repair or demolish) on multi-storey concrete buildings in Christchurch. The study, conducted in 2014, includes in-depth investigations on 15 case-study buildings using 27 semi-structured interviews with various property owners, property managers, insurers, engineers, and government authorities in New Zealand. The interviews revealed insights regarding the multitude of factors influencing post-earthquake decisions and losses. As expected, the level of damage and repairability (cost to repair) generally dictated the course of action. There is strong evidence, however, that other variables have significantly influenced the decision on a number of buildings, such as insurance, business strategies, perception of risks, building regulations (and compliance costs), and government decisions. The decision-making process for each building is complex and unique, not solely driven by structural damage. Furthermore, the findings have put the spotlight on insurance policy wordings and the paradoxical effect of insurance on the recovery of Christchurch, leading to other challenges and issues going forward.

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