Seismic Q&A’s – For patients and members of the public | Bay of Plenty District Health Board | Hauora a Toi | BOPDHB

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Seismic Q&A’s – For patients and members of the public

30 May 2022

As with other DHBs, we have been asked questions about our seismic assessments. We want to make sure you have the latest information.

Seismic strengthening and earthquake-prone buildings (EPBs) have been much in the news lately. In common with many other DHBs around the country the BOPDHB also needs to do further seismic upgrading at Tauranga Hospital to achieve the latest standards. We have received expert engineering advice that the risk to people while we plan the future for the buildings is low. The safety of our staff and patients is our priority, as is maintaining our hospital’s clinical and acute services. Any risks associated with the earthquake prone buildings are being proactively monitored and managed. If a building is found to be earthquake-prone, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be occupied.

We do have to either upgrade over time (we have 12.5 years to do this) or to build a new Clinical Services Block and vacate the EPB, which can both bring the hospital up to latest standards and address our accommodation pressures for the longer term.

Building a new Clinical Services Block is a much better option than working out how we would decant our wards into offsite accommodation for 2-3 years of building works. As such, this is the focus of the DHB’s business case which we are currently discussing with the Ministry of Health. As we’ve said before, the business case will also consider a greenfield build option if suitable land is available.

In the meantime, there is only one area of Tauranga Hospital where our seismic assessments identified a life safety risk and that was the kitchen – which was subject to strengthening works last year to address this issue. Most importantly, there is no cause for alarm.

As Health Minister Andrew Little stated recently, this issue is about buildings not being up to code and that they need to be brought up to code or an alternative plan put in place for them. We have those plans in place.

“It's about building standards, and it's about a comparison with the hypothetical that if there were a new building built to the current building standards how would it compare,” said Minister Little. He further noted that were thousands of public and private buildings in New Zealand which did not meet the code.

The 2022 budget announced that $1.3billion has been set aside for hospital infrastructure projects across the country. It was also announced that Health New Zealand, the new public health agency replacing DHBs, is establishing an infrastructure function which will look at hospital infrastructure throughout New Zealand.

Here are some questions and answers to help you better understand the situation and what BOPDHB is doing about it.

What is an earthquake-prone building (EPB)?

If a building has been classified as ‘earthquake-prone’ it means the building is more likely to sustain damage following a moderate earthquake and, as a result, there would be a higher risk to staff and public safety. Hospital buildings are ‘priority buildings’ and are held to a higher standard than commercial or residential buildings because of their role in emergency support after a major disaster.

Seismic ratings are essentially a risk comparator, and relate a building to an equivalent new building. NBS does not predict expected performance in a particular earthquake, as every earthquake is different in terms of location and depth of the epicentre, and frequency of shaking. Buildings rated below the minimum standard of 34%NBS (IL3 & IL4) are classified as Earthquake Prone Buildings (EPB).

More importantly, %NBS ratings don’t represent a specific assessment of safety. A building with a seismic rating less than 34%NBS is not considered a dangerous building or necessarily in any imminent risk of failure in an earthquake. The low rating signals that action should be taken to address the structural vulnerabilities identified. It is important to note that the low %NBS ratings reflect the presence of structural shortcomings and a lack of resilience in these systems, not the levels of shaking at which they might fail.

What is a ‘priority building’?

Acute hospital buildings with emergency facilities are ‘priority buildings’ and are required to meet a high earthquake rating, importance level 4 (IL4). This means the building will be able to withstand a 1 in 2500-year earthquake, and be operational within hours of the event because of their role in emergency support in a major disaster. Commercial and residential buildings are rated importance level 2 (IL2).

Which buildings are classified as EPBs at the BOPDHB?

Four buildings at Tauranga Hospital are classified as EPBs:

  • T20
  • T24
  • T45
  • T46

What are these buildings used for?

  • T20 - kitchen and site-wide building services located in the building’s basement
  • T24 - offices and support services building and transit lounge
  • T45 - main ward and clinical services block
  • T46 - theatre block

What are the issues with these buildings?

T20 - Upgrade and strengthening work to bring this building up to code would include demolition of the first and ground floor structure then structural upgrade of the basement walls. The long-term proposal for this building is that it will be impacted by the proposed new Clinical Services Building.

T24 – Strengthening work has been undertaken on the exterior of this building previously. Further work would be required to upgrade the internal walls. However, the building would need to be vacated before this work could commence.

T45 and T46 – Upgrade and strengthening work to bring these two buildings up to code would be required in the primary structure, floor and foundations. This would require both buildings to be vacated. Therefore, as mentioned previously, the preferred plan is to construct a new Clinical Services Building in the 12.5 year timeframe.

Is Whakatāne Hospital affected?

No. The new Whakatāne Hospital building is not an earthquake-prone building. Whakatāne Hospital was completed in 2015 and was 100% code compliant at the time of construction. A new national system for seismic analysis buildings in New Zealand came into effect on 1 July 2017. This system effectively tightened existing seismic assessment criteria. Nevertheless, it is confidently assessed that Whakatāne Hospital would still score in excess of 80% compliance against these new criteria.

Am I safe to be in a building classified as earthquake-prone?

We have received expert engineering advice that the risk to people while we plan the future for the buildings is low. The safety of our staff and patients is our priority, as is maintaining our hospital’s clinical and acute services. Any risks associated with the earthquake prone buildings are being proactively monitored and managed. If a building is found to be earthquake-prone, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be occupied.

What are the timeframes to address the issues?

National legislation that came into effect on 1 July 2017 changed the way earthquake-prone buildings are identified and dealt with. As a result more buildings may be considered earthquake prone. The Earthquake Prone Building Act (2016) permits 12.5 years to upgrade earthquake-prone buildings. One part of the affected buildings, the main kitchen, was strengthened last year as an interim safety measure.

What is the earthquake risk zone for Tauranga?

Tauranga is a medium risk zone for earthquakes compared to other parts of the country such as Wellington, which is categorized as a high-risk zone for earthquakes.

Are there any other options to provide the clinical and acute services in an alternative location?

We are investigating all possible options. However, for essential acute clinical services there are unlikely to be realistic alternatives.

We are required to either upgrade over time (we have 12.5 years to do this) or to build a new Clinical Services Block, which can both bring the hospital up to latest standards and address our accommodation pressures for the longer term.

The latter is a much better option than working out how we would decant our wards into offsite accommodation for 2-3 years of building works. As such, this is the focus of the DHB’s business case which we are currently developing with the Ministry of Health. As we’ve said before, the business case will also consider a greenfield build option if suitable land is available.

What approach has the BOPDHB undertaken with regard to its seismic analysis work?

The management and review of all of our campus infrastructure continues to occur in a planned and systematic way. As part of our ongoing programme of building seismic analysis we have further work scheduled for this year.

Have all DHB buildings been assessed?

All key clinical buildings have undergone seismic analysis. Tauranga Hospital has grown and developed over many years and is an amalgamation of buildings of different ages.

What is BOPDHB doing?

BOPDHB is absolutely committed to proactively monitoring and managing the risks associated with the buildings. The Earthquake Prone Building Act (2016) allows us up to 12.5 years to upgrade the earthquake prone buildings.

BOPDHB has been included in the Ministry of Health Regional Hospital Redevelopment Programme. As such we are currently developing a business case to build a new Clinical Services Block, which can both bring the hospital up to latest standards and address our accommodation pressures for the longer term. The business case will also consider a greenfield build option if suitable land is available.