The impact of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence on the earthquake engineering profession in New Zealand

  • Dave Brunsdon Kestrel Group Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand
  • John Hare Holmes Consulting Group, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Mike Stannard Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Wellington, New Zealand
  • Kelvin Berryman GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  • Graeme Beattie BRANZ, Judgeford, New Zealand
  • Nick Traylen Geotech Consulting Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand


Professional engineers have provided a range of inputs into the responses to the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence and the recovery process that has followed. This earthquake sequence has been unique in many respects, including the intensity of shaking produced in the Christchurch CBD by each of the major aftershocks in February, June and December 2011. For engineers, the heavy workload has been continuous from the response to the original 4 September 2010 Darfield earthquake, and will extend for several years to come.

There have been many post-earthquake challenges for seismologists and geotechnical and structural engineers, commencing with urban search and rescue responses and rapid building evaluations, and extending through the more detailed assessments and repair specifications during the recovery phase. Engineers are required to interface with owners, regulatory authorities and insurers, and face many challenges in meeting the objectives of these different sectors, which are rarely aligned.

Adding to the technical demands has been the requirement for many scientists and engineers to provide input into the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry and other investigations. The Royal Commission was set up to investigate the failure of buildings that led to the loss of 185 lives in the 22 February 2011 aftershock, and has placed close scrutiny on many aspects of engineering activities, particularly those undertaken following the 4 September 2010 earthquake. The prominent public reporting of the Royal Commission hearings has placed additional pressure on many engineers, including those who volunteered their services following the original earthquake into a role for which they had received only limited prior training. Interpreting and communicating ‘safety’ in relation to the re-occupancy (or continued occupancy) of commercial buildings continues to be a challenge in the face of liability concerns.

A more comprehensive understanding of the technical and process guidance required by engineers and authorities has resulted from the work undertaken in response to this earthquake sequence. Much of this guidance has now been produced, and will be of considerable benefit for future major earthquake events.

This paper reflects on the range of work undertaken by scientists and engineers during the response and recovery stages. The scope and implications of the various official inquiries are summarised, and the potential impacts on engineers involved in the response to and recovery from future major earthquakes are briefly discussed.


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How to Cite
Brunsdon, D., Hare, J., Stannard, M., Berryman, K., Beattie, G., & Traylen, N. (2013). The impact of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence on the earthquake engineering profession in New Zealand. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 46(1), 56-67.