Whats Shaking Me

Here we are 6 weeks later and my commercial property world still seems centred on the Kaikoura shakes, every second conversation seems to relate to earthquake ratings or what is happening in what damaged building etc. I like to think that I was unshaken by these events, inconvenienced yes, I lost sleep and a carpark. I did get swept up in a frenzy of anxiety which followed and got extremely grumpy around being displaced suddenly by the BNZ who leased all the space in the building my office was in. I discovered how much rubbish I hang onto in my office space and managed to clear much of it, I think I only carried one old phone book to my new office. I was the recipient of some tremendous kindness from several people who stepped up to help me move up to The Terrace and I have discovered this new fangled thing called VOIP which is extremely cheap. I had not previously considered this  because of my own inertia to change.

A recent conversation with an economist has made me pause to think about my perspectives (there are NO short conversations with economists ). He claims that statistically speaking it would take 14 thousand years to  be certain of dying in a motor vehicle accident and about 3 million years (YES MILLION) to die in an earthquake. What we can conclude from the recent event is that the relationship of damage to commercial buildings and seismic ratings is not linear in fact if anything the relationship could even be inversed. This irony is not lost on the many owners of ‘prone’ buildings around the CBD. Please be quite clear, I have benefited greatly from the business of locating tenants to buildings with higher seismic ratings so why should I now wonder if this is always the best idea. Of the buildings I manage, 2 had not a single paint or plaster crack and they are rated a middling 67 and 70%. Another newish building which is 100% sustained a heap of unsightly paint and plaster cracks. So do I conclude we need better engineers with better formulas and models to manage and predict building performance or do we need better plasterers?

What we can observe is that the buildings which were substantially damaged were not classed as prone and they are localised in around Thorndon and Courtenay Place. It might be more about the soils and levels of compaction but also we know that not all the buildings in these locations behaved alike. We are lucky because the big earthquake happened while we were in our beds. I may be wrong but I understand that in only one of those buildings which sustained substantial damage, someone may have been killed if they were sitting inside them at the time. I have learned that just because a building sustains damage does not mean it fails diabolically. So every earthquake is different and will have different effects around the city and every building will behave differently irrespective of rating and probably won’t kill me, the risks are well under the risk of driving on Wellington streets. Therefore I conclude that we cannot rely on the engineers and unelected council bureaucrats to absolutely keep us safe. Stepping out into dangerous territory now I think that any adult who chooses to live or work in Wellington has to accept the risk in this regard. If you don’t like it then it is really time to move out of town. Where in New Zealand is truly safe I cannot say so maybe across the ditch is best for you, but hold on, they’ve got ‘bities’. Things with big teeth that bite, hurt and kill you, now they truly terrify me!

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