Response to the rapid building assessment system review

Following the 2023 North Island severe weather events MBIE commissioned a review of how the rapid building assessment system worked during the response to assess how well it functioned and identify any areas for improvement.

In early 2023, severe weather events affected large parts of the North Island, causing widespread and devastating damage to buildings and communities.

A National State of Emergency was declared on Tuesday 14 February 2023, local territorial authority and Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) groups managed the response to the weather event in their respective areas.

The response included completing rapid building assessments to establish the usability of buildings and the safety of neighbouring properties, local infrastructure and protect the safety of affected communities.

Rapid building assessments

Rapid building assessments are completed by teams led by the local territorial authority. Rapid Building Assessors (RBAs) are deployed to assess damaged buildings, including existing or potential hazards. They then record details of the damage and assign appropriate placards to buildings to identify how they can be used.

The 2023 Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle marked the first instance where the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) deployed RBAs at a national level. Over 240 local and MBIE-deployed RBAs were dispatched across the North Island, completing over 10,000 rapid building assessments. Territorial authorities also deployed RBAs to their communities.

Given the magnitude of the emergency response and the widespread damage to buildings, MBIE wanted to understand how well the rapid building assessment system functioned during the response and to identify any areas for improvement.

Review of the rapid building response

Both MBIE and territorial authorities have roles and responsibilities under the National Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Plan Order 2015 and the Building Act 2004. MBIE is one of several agencies with legal obligations, roles, and responsibilities for building management in emergencies. MBIE works with other agencies to plan for and provide co-ordinated, integrated and effective responses to emergencies. Territorial authorities must develop and maintain arrangements to ensure they are ready to respond to an emergency and lead recovery work.

Late in 2023, MBIE commissioned Gravitas OPG to undertake a review of how the rapid building assessment system worked during the response. The aim of the review was to confirm that the agencies and organisations involved met their responsibilities under the legislation.

The resulting report provides an overview of feedback from RBAs on how they were prepared for deployment, including the training, communication, resources and tools they received. It also examines the processes used for deployment, conducting assessments and for ensuring the wellbeing of the RBAs.

The data used to inform this review was obtained from 22 in-depth interviews with RBAs who had been deployed to the 2 weather events. In addition, all MBIE registered RBAs had the opportunity to participate in the review via an online survey, with 47 completed surveys received.

Overall, the review found that the rapid building assessment system is perceived as a sufficient system for a building emergency response framework in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Some key findings included:

  • RBAs trained prior to the emergency event were well-prepared for their role and felt well-managed by their immediate team leader in the field
  • the placarding system was not always fit-for-purpose for flooding events
  • dealing with the public/homeowners who didn’t understand the rapid building assessment system was a challenging part of the RBA role
  • the RBA training programme must be able to meet demand
  • wellbeing support and time off for RBAs following an event needs greater consideration.

Recommendations of the report

The report provides recommendations for areas where MBIE could make improvements.

MBIE has incorporated the areas identified for improvement in the review into the 2024-2025 continuous improvement programme. The actions identified include:

  • continuing to run and provide the RBA training programme throughout the country, including providing face-to-face and online learning opportunities
  • reviewing and revising current guidance and resources for RBAs
  • developing additional guidance for territorial authorities and senior decision makers for readiness, response, recovery and risk-reduction activities
  • expanding guidance for ensuring the health, safety and well-being of deployed staff – particularly for the transition to recovery and post-deployment phases
  • creating more information for the public and home-owners on the rapid building assessment system including information to help them understand what a placard on their home means.

MBIE encourages territorial authorities to consider the conclusions of the report and the best practice service provision suggestions as part of their readiness planning for future events.

Find information about building management in emergencies(external link) — building.govt