When a devastating 7.1 magnitude New Zealand earthquake struck the Canterbury Region at 4:30 am on September 4th 2010, the traumatized citizens could at least be thankful that their children were at home, and not lying traumatized under collapsed school classroom ceilings. As Ministry of Education authorities surveyed the damage in the days that followed, they hoped that their 30-year program to seismically strengthen School buildings had succeeded.
The following is a summary of damage to School buildings per a report issued shortly afterwards by the Ministry of Education Acting Canterbury Regional Property Manager Brian Mitchell. His conservative preliminary report indicated that damage could be sufficiently severe to set Canterbury education back for months, if not years.
Substantive - 1
Immediate Hazards - 31
Potential Structural Issues - 71
Superficial Damage - 41
No Damage - 35
The School that was substantively damaged was affected by liquefaction of the underlying ground as opposed to poor construction. The older schools built of bricks and mortar that had been reinforced under the seismic upgrade program survived much better that their un-reinforced counterparts. This stands in stark contrast to the situation following the earthquake in Haiti a year ago, where old, badly maintained Schools were largely destroyed.
The Education Ministry’s immediate response following the New Zealand earthquake was to close all Schools for a week, so that damage could be assessed without endangering staff and pupils. Notwithstanding a significant 5.1 magnitude aftershock 100% of Schools reopened within 7 days. While many were able to function on-site, others were moved to short-term temporary facilities. Thereafter a program was put in place to complete as much remedial work as possible before the commencement of the 2011 academic year this February.
In the course of the repair program it became evident that the majority of the damage was superficial. This included building cracks, building movement, damaged wall linings and claddings, cracked concreted and paved areas, and damage to facilities such as chimneys and boilers.
The New Zealand Authorities deserve a sustained round of applause for their seismic foresight, and for the calm organized way in which they tackled the damage to School buildings. Nation’s around the world in seismically active areas should take note of lessons learned from the New Zealand earthquake, and follow suit too.