19.02.2016 : Ian Fenemore

The dress rehearsals are over

For the people of Christchurch, this event probably caused some of the strongest shaking felt in the area since February 2011.

We were a week away from the fifth anniversary of the 22 February earthquake, and BANG!…..we were reminded of our existence on the ’Shaky Isles’ and of the seismic risk we live with every day.

The Valentine’s Day 2016 earthquake struck at 1.13pm. Its epicenter was 15km deep, approximately 5km east of the New Brighton coast and 15km for the Christchurch CBD. It was a shallow and strong earthquake felt within a 20km radius of the epicentre. Based on the recordings, the shaking experienced in eastern Christchurch was quite intense and strong, albeit of short duration.

For the people of Christchurch, this event probably caused some of the strongest shaking felt in the area since February 2011. In some areas such as New Brighton, Shirley and Woolston, the intensity was up to 60% that of 22 February 2011 earthquake. Serious enough!

For me the earthquake hit as I was tidying up some paperwork at the office. Within a few seconds I was in the ‘Drop Cover and Hold’ position under my desk, as computer monitors were toppling and drawers were opening and emptying their contents around me; papers flying. After I felt confident enough to stand up again, I realised I was quite shaken, my knees felt unstable and it took me a few minutes to fully realise what had just happened. I stood at the window for some time surveying the scene outside, expecting to see tower cranes collapsing and dust rising through the air. Then there was the sound of sirens and alarms going off...... 'Here we go again', I thought. It was not long before reports were appearing on the news media and on-ground reporting.

My thoughts turned quickly to my family and close friends. I checked in with them. All safe - done. Then it was our staff - what about their welfare? Was everyone safe? The procedures we reviewed just prior to the Christmas break came quickly to mind. I knew everyone in the team carried a wallet card, with contact numbers of all other staff. I called the Team Leaders, and after confirming their own welfare, asked them to contact their team members, and report back. Within a couple of hours everyone was accounted for, many staff volunteering to carry out what they knew would come next – rapid damage inspections. It was inspiring to feel the energy and responsibility from a team, who had mostly been through this before. It was territory they had experience in, and knew what was expected of them. With people residing all around the city, it would help to assign appropriate resources quickly and efficiently.

Then my thoughts went to our clients. Were they safe? Was their property damaged? What about assets, plant, equipment? Inherent in our culture as structural engineers is the responsibility under a situation like this, to kick into action quickly and assist wherever we can to keep their businesses running. This would mean being responsive, efficient, understanding, and most importantly, acting safely and sensibly. It was time to put in place those earthquake and emergency procedures we'd been over many times; it was time to implement the lessons we'd learned from 2011 into practice. It was now.

By 3pm, my colleague Samir Govind, Technical Director, had initiated our Teamview site, with administrator Emma Berry. From here we were able to log inquiries from clients, prioritise their needs and begin assigning resources to carry out inspections. We had by this time, also received information from one of our seismic specialists in Auckland, Weng Yuen Kam, who had plotted the epicenter on a city map, and assigned the recorded ground accelerations in contours around and away from the epicenter.

This enabled us to quickly identify areas which would be worst affected and with that we could match our key client locations. This was valuable information which allowed us to prioritise our resources for the recovery effort. Critical to the City’s infrastructure is the wastewater treatment plant - this was in a high risk zone, and had been significantly damaged in 2011. A team of structural and geotechnical engineers was dispatched immediately to the site, and was able to assess the damage within hours of the event.

By close of business Monday 15th February we had logged over 20 client requests, with a combined property portfolio of over 60 buildings. At the time of writing this article our team of experienced professionals had visited over 100 sites and inspected many more buildings. The Teamview databank enabled us to co-ordinate the inquiries, record client information (including critical information such as importance levels of buildings), assign resources, record and sort the data from the site inspections, and record the activity status at each site – an invaluable management tool.

None of us would wish any such event to be repeated, but should it happen again, we have the tools, experience, resource and expertise to respond.

About the Author

Ian Fenemore

Technical Director - Southern Structures

Ian has been in the consulting industry for over 20 years and has a variety of experience in structural analysis, seismic assessment design, damage assessment and design management in a diverse range of buildings and industrial projects. He re-joined Beca and the Christchurch office in September 2012 to assist with the Christchurch post-earthquake rebuild effort, after being part of the emergency recovery effort in February 2011. Ian brings a wealth of experience in industrial, food and beverage, municipal, education and community based projects.

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

Ian Fenemore · 25/02/2016 3:03:32 PM
Thanks, Kirsty. We appreciate your concern. It was very satisfying to see the systems we had in place ran smoothly. Just hope we don't have to roll it out every week!

Ian Fenemore · 25/02/2016 3:00:31 PM
Thanks for your comments, Craig. It worked very well, and we have a fantastic team here....not that I want to be doing it too often :-)

Kirsty · 19/02/2016 12:17:04 PM
It's so good to read this - my first thoughts when I heard of the earthquake were of the Beca staff, and I knew there were procedures in place to check on them. I trusted that they had been carried out, and everyone was fine - it's good to know my trust was well placed! Nice as well to see technology used in a productive and useful way.

Craig Lamont · 19/02/2016 12:11:58 PM
I'm truly inspired by the awesome response to the event. Fortunately, it's a very well oiled machine it seems and thank goodness it is. Great post, Ian.