A CBD Building Owners guide to surviving earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.
We own one of “Gerry’s Dungers” in the CBD. It is still standing despite the best efforts of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to demolish all of the “dungers”.
Here is a beginner’s guide for a building owner on how to survive. Errors and omissions accepted.
1. Do Not expect any help from the authorities. (They will not help you do urgent repairs to your house/building nor offer meaningful assistance). The tendency of the authorities is to panic, pick up the Health and Safety manual and put idiots in charge. In our case they locked the building owners out of the CBD for 2 years. The results of this are plain to see today. Desolation, abandoned buildings, empty bare land.
2. Do Not move out of your house/building unless it is truly munted. If in doubt ring a builder friend. If you have to move into your garage or shed and make urgent repairs do so). It is usually better to stay in your house regardless of the condition. Financially, moving is an extra stress that you do not need. Also the landowners take advantage of your misery and Insurance funds by putting up the cost of the rentals immediately. DO NOT MOVE unless absolutely VITAL. (Minor cracks to the plaster does not constitute “major damage” nor does “off the foundations” or sloping floors or even broken windows. ( I and my neighbours pushed the walls of my house back into alignment with a Ute and propped it up with the help of scrounged/liberated building supplies. Then we lived in it for 3 years. It is not good, but it is better than renting and using up your insurance funds).
Here is a pix of 4 years progress on my house: Southern NO Response– the Insurance company, Arrow– Project Managers and Benchmark (Building company) should be ashamed of themselves. The lack of efficiency, cost over runs and mistakes made are beyond belief).
3. Do Not expect any help from the authorities. They will be too busy protecting their jobs and having meetings.
3a. This includes the CCC building Consents department. The system does not take account of the difficulties of getting your Engineering paper work sorted in a timely manner. (In our case they are still arguing about whether the steel reinforcing columns will melt before the bricks explode in the event of a fire). In CHCH most people I know are now opting out of the Consents process. This says it all really.
4. Do Not expect any help from the other building owners in the city. They will show no leadership skills. They are too busy protecting their own properties and positions:
a) taking positions. ie buying up your property or trying to get their hands on your insurance settlement.
b) sorting out their own problems.
5. Do not expect the authorities to listen to reason. They know better! This is regardless of the soundness of your arguments and opinions.
5a. Do not believe what the authorities or “Powers that Be” tell you. Tomorrow the details will change. Just assume that they do not know what they are doing and tomorrow they will change their minds. One would like to hope that reason would eventually prevail. Do not count on it.
6. Do not expect the authorities to listen to overseas experts, even ones with experience in handling exactly the same disaster that you are facing. New Zealand authorities always know better.
7. Do not expect the authorities to put in place competent administrators with experience. Here we got a landscape gardener in charge, an ex army Engineer and a council official from Timaru.
8. Do not expect the insurance companies to honour their policies. Do Not expect help from your Broker. The mantra is “Deny, delay, defend”. (Our insurance settlement is still unresolved 4 years after the event).
a) Expect numerous assessments and assessors. ( I have heard of up to 11 different insurance assessors dealing with the one building owner, you will find that you repeat yourself endlessly as you go through the details over and over again. We had 8 accessors, I think, I have lost count????
b) It is often to your insurance companies advantage if you do not repair/ rebuild your building. You tend to get indemnity value only, which is lower than replacement value.
9. Do not be afraid to hire your own Engineers.
a) Pick one with experience in your type of structure. Chose your Engineer wisely. ( ie there are only approximately 5 Engineers in Christchurch experienced in the repairs of Un reinforced masonry buildings. (URM’s). We had a few young CERA Engineers come through our building and tell us that “it was very dangerous”. They were barely out of University and had no experience with URM’s.
b) DO NOT believe what the “Government paid” Engineers tell you. SIGHT your building ie a site inspection. Do NOT take their word as Gospel. Get your own Engineer, get a second or third opinion if you have ANY doubts. (There were many buildings in Christchurch that should not have been bulldozed).
10. Do not expect logic to take any place in the redevelopment of the city. They will continue to pull down both brand new and old buildings that do not fit their new “Grand Design”. They will have a grand plan that defies logic. Try not to focus on their grand design, it will drive you mad. Fight for your building and try to ignore the idiots in charge. If they try to take your building, stall, stall, stall. The longer you stall the higher the price you will get. You hope.
11. Do not expect the authorities to be able to make decisions quickly. Decisions take YEARS! (As it sits on the desks of those with sign off power). We can not rebuild the back of our building as they refuse to tell us the planned design for the lane way at the back of our building. Only another year before we get an answer. lol!
12. Take no notice of the authorities. Do what you have to do. Be it raiding your building/house to get your gear out or refusing to allow them to demolish your building without a second opinion. The trick is to APPEAR to be doing something. Even if its DELAY, DELAY, DELAY. Treat the powers that be with the contempt that they deserve. Remember that they have not got a clue about what they are doing. They will bully you endlessly and try to tell you that they know what they are doing. Do not believe them.
13. Every once in a while you will find a sympathetic/helpful official. Be grateful for small mercies. In our case it has been the Heritage lobby officials. The encouragement that you get makes it worthwhile.
14. Calling all Media experts : if you are a Media/Communication Expert immediately apply to the govt for a job. The government needs to put a positive spin on what they are doing so they will hire heaps of Media Experts to try to influence the Press. Last count at CERA was 43 and the money is good. ( This is a problem for those of us with a conscience as they have filled the Press with bull shit about how well its going).
15. Take the insurance companies or EQC to court to get JUST settlements, one building at a time if necessary. Get your paper work in order. Be it Engineer Reports, building or land assessments and go for it.
16. Expect more than one earthquake. Take no notice of the earthquake experts, they have no clues about what will happen. And the powers that be will try to keep morale up by putting a positive spin on it. Expect each quake to cause damage to your building. Brace yourself for 15,000 plus. Expect quakes for many more years to come.
17. Expect to have at least one or two or three…. who cares how many…. meltdowns in 4 years. The stress of dealing with this number of earthquakes has a cumulative effect. Meltdowns are perfectly allowable and normal. ( Avoid chocolate and booze. Lapses are allowed especially with your friends and family). You are allowed to cry in the street, throw tantrums and generally behave badly. Its normal. ye ha…… Expect to be hugged by perfect strangers in the street.
18. Expect to come out of the experience as a different person. You will be stronger, more resilient. Less concerned with appearances, possessions and small issues. Less tolerant of bull shit. You will change. It is unavoidable.
19. Keep those water bottles clean and full and do not fill in the long drop in the garden, they are a sod to dig. And always keep your hard hat, boots and fluro jacket with “Engineer” written on the back, you never know when it will come in handy.
20. The rest of New Zealand. Be very afraid. The CER style Act of Parliament tramples on individual property owners rights. It is poor legislation that was rushed through in a dictatorial manner and ignores the conventions on post disaster recovery. ( a point made by Robert , a reader of this blog).
21. Realise that the EQC system is flawed. The multiple assessments by untrained: cops, office girls, children of EQC management etc was a flawed process. (If you were really lucky you got a real trained competent builder!). Today 4 years on there are still home owners who do not know if their houses are to be repaired or bulldozed. The system of apportionment ( ie a % figure allocated to the damage caused by each quake) is flawed. To be “Fletchered” ie have your house repairs managed by Fletchers is a verb in CHCH. If you were lucky you got competent local builders. If you were unlucky you got a shoddy patch up job, some of these repair jobs are going to haunt many home owners for many years to come.
So: If you have a multiple event situation like we did, think CAREFULLY before you put in multiple claims with EQC. One or 2 claims gets you to your Insurance company in a more timely manner.
(As you can see from the picture of my “house” this does not always help you. The Insurance companies have in many cases performed badly as well! Southern No Response is a good example).
hey Its just another day, the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and all is quiet!