Would a new seismic monitoring system have saved lives lost in Christchurch earthquake?

The AM Show 07/06/2019

A new seismic monitoring system may have saved lives lost in the Christchurch earthquake if it had been installed at the time, says a seismic data expert.

Buildings in Wellington are having sensors installed to monitor how resilient they are to earthquakes, and anything else which may create movement.

The sensors are a part of the Structural Health Monitoring System (SHMS), which collects data from buildings throughout the city and measures how they're performing.

Mark Futter, managing director of Global Seismic Data - which is behind the system - says it provides real-time information about how safe buildings are to be in.

"We've developed a system which gives a building a pulse… for us it is about having the ability to manage risk, look at how ready we can make people, understand what response looks like, and work towards recovery should disaster strike," he told The AM Show on Friday.

"Being able to get data analytics on a building, and it's in near to real-time as you can possibly get, will impact the value chain across multiple sectors."

It could provide data to first-responders after a quake to help them decide whether to evacuate a building or if it is safe to re-enter. The sensors can also be installed in other key infrastructure, like evacuation routes.

But the system was also built to provide data after any movement which impacts a building.

"Our system will pick up any movement and behaviour which is outside of the norm and it doesn't really take a seismic shake to do that," Futter said.

"For example, if a building was being built next door and the ground was being pounded, we can actually pick up alterations in the frequency of the building and the ambient noise. So it does work with degradation over time."

Asked if the technology could have saved the lives lof those killed in the CTV building, which was destroyed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Futter said it was very possible.

"I do wish that we had developed this technology a long time ago and, potentially, if we had our technology in that building, the outcomes may have been different for a lot of individuals."

Steven McLauchlan, Global Seismic Dataglobal operations and supply chain director of developers, said the system would save lives.

"SHMS can instantly provide earthquake response information in cities, for first responders, engineers, building owners, insurers and the public," he said in a statement.

Global Seismic Data is working with building owners, engineers and insurance companies to roll out the system across 23 countries.

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi told The AM Show that he was keen to have a look at the system, when asked if the Government may consider supporting it.

"If it helps us assess the safety of a building quicker, then I wouldn't mind having a chat to [Futter]."

Ian Cassels, a prominent Wellington property investor, will have the system installed across his buildings.

"This system provides us with invaluable information about how our building portfolio performs in an earthquake," Cassels said.

It has been welcomed by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

"It will be very useful in understanding how earthquakes or degradation over time might affect Wellington's building's as a whole and how we can best respond when disaster strikes," said chief executive John Milford.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor