Earthquake-prone school buildings identification

We prioritise school buildings for seismic assessment based on their level of potential risk to life safety in an earthquake. Our earthquake resilience (EQR) programme manages assessment of priority buildings by engineers. It also helps to manage the strengthening or demolition work for earthquake-prone buildings, which is covered here.

Earthquake resilience programme

Our EQR programme makes sure existing school buildings are assessed for seismic strength, meaning that any significant seismic vulnerabilities can be identified for strengthening. School buildings are assessed by engineers according to their priority, and we use these results to decide if a school building needs strengthening. Some school buildings have already been strengthened as part of this work.

Our goals are:

  • in the short term, to address any critical weaknesses in school buildings as soon as possible so that no school buildings are earthquake prone
  • in the medium term, to strengthen all school buildings to at least 67% of the New Building Standard (NBS).

Prioritising school buildings for seismic assessment

Buildings are prioritised for seismic assessment, and later for strengthening, based on their level of risk to life safety in an earthquake. The table shows how they are prioritised.

Priority level

Type of buildings


Priority one

  • Unreinforced masonry.
  • Multi-storey buildings of heavy construction.

We are concentrating our resources on assessing priority one and 2 buildings.


Assessments will be undertaken by engineers appointed by the Ministry.

Priority 2

  • Single-storey buildings with large open floor areas (eg halls and gyms).
  • Single-storey buildings of heavy construction.

Other (non-priority)

  • One- and two-storey timber- and steel-framed buildings.
  • Ancillary structures (eg storage facilities or boiler rooms).

We do not manage the assessment of non-priority buildings because of their low risk to life safety in an earthquake.

Identifying earthquake-prone buildings

Our EQR programme manages the assessment of all priority one and 2 buildings. Buildings undergo an initial seismic assessment, and the EQR programme will decide when a detailed seismic assessment is required based on the results of the initial seismic assessment.

An initial seismic assessment of a building will indicate broadly what percentage of the NBS it meets.

A detailed seismic assessment of a building will provide more specific information where considered necessary, and is usually sought when an initial seismic assessment indicates that a building may be earthquake prone.  

Under section 122 of the Building Act 2004 (New Zealand Legislation website) (external link) , a building is earthquake prone if it is likely to both:

  • have its ultimate capacity (strength) exceeded in a moderate earthquake, and
  • collapse, causing injury, death or damage to other property.

Assessments also consider the level of earthquake activity in the area where a building is located.

Using all of this information, and specific structural requirements, engineers can determine if a building is earthquake prone or not. Find out more about timber-framed buildings.

Managing earthquake-prone buildings

If buildings are assessed as earthquake prone, it does not usually mean they cannot be occupied. The EQR programme helps to manage the remediation work for earthquake-prone school buildings. Before the work begins, an earthquake-prone building will be assessed as either:

  • fit to occupy – the EQR programme then works with the school to prioritise and schedule strengthening works, or
  • not fit to occupy – it will then be closed and strengthening work or demolition will be arranged as soon as practical. 

Find out more about strengthening school buildings for earthquake resilience.

Funding seismic assessments

If a building needs a seismic assessment, we:

  • will fund the entire assessment if we own or part-own the building
  • will not fund the assessment if we do not own the building.

Note: These assessments will not affect your 5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding.

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