Investigate economic impacts of earthquakes, and create the evidence base to inform regulation for effective planning, policy and mitigation to build resilience – including whole-of-economy earthquake impact modelling, assessment of specific resilience-building legal and planning tools and processes, and behavioural ‘nudges’ to incentivize resilience.

Research Summary

The current approach to seismic risk in NZ reflects the global paradigm of separate consideration of the four elements of the disaster cycle (mitigation, prevention, response and recovery). Thus, law and policy address seismic risk through a focus on individual elements (e.g., the Building Act, CDEM Act, RMA, etc), creating a siloed approach with a tendency to focus mostly on response. This approach increasingly deviates from best practice, both internationally and in NZ, as recognised by the 2019 National Disaster Resilience Strategy.

Recognising this paradigm shift, this disciplinary theme will develop a holistic science-based approach to the regulation and efficient implementation of seismic risk reduction that includes every link in the ‘value-chain’, utilising the most appropriate legal, planning and economic incentive tools to reduce immediate damage (and short-term loss) while improving the prospects of successful long-term recovery. Such a holistic approach, while already discussed conceptually in policy, is currently lacking the global evidence-base to support it. Our innovative approach is focussed on post-event wellbeing, and utilises the Four Capitals identified in the NZ Treasury’s path-breaking Living Standards Framework – natural, human, social, and physical/financial. Explicit consideration will also be given to efficient mitigation mechanisms to reduce the impacts of seismic events or transfer the financial component of the risk. This can only be achieved through paradigm-shifting, inter-disciplinary collaborations that quantify the economic costs of seismic events; formulate and test appropriate regulatory tools and assess wider governance models for their mitigation.

Research Outline

DT3a: %NBS, Perceptions, Impact and Consequences

(Olga Filippova)

For most building owners and occupiers, the term %NBS has penetrated everyday vocabulary. While the rating is meant to indicate how a particular building would perform in an earthquake in terms of protecting human life, over time it has grown to be perceived/interpreted as a degree of building’s ability to function after an earthquake. Although this is an unintended interpretation of the %NBS rating, there is a potential to leverage this ‘mistake’ and shift focus towards ensuring that occupants are able not only to survive a large earthquake but also have a functional building to return to.  The theme of this project is to undertake an evaluation of private sector perceptions of %NBS, analyse implications for regulatory compliance and drivers for change in the behaviour of building owners and occupiers that would manifest in increased seismic resilience of our built environment.


DT3b: Governing for long-term durability and resilience of buildings:

(Jeroen van der Heijden)

Without adequate maintenance, the durability of buildings will deteriorate over time. This process, often incremental, typically goes unnoticed (or is actively ignored) by building owners. Over time, however, reduced durability will decrease the resilience of buildings to withstand natural and man-made disasters—from earthquakes to flooding, from vehicle collisions to the effects of climate change. This has negative consequences for individual building owners (for many it is their biggest asset) but particularly for society at large, as we so often see with earthquakes, flooding, and increasingly, the negative impacts of climate change. This proposed project will address this problem from a governance perspective and ask: What governance strategies and approaches are suitable to ensure the long-term durability and resilience of buildings? By taking a governance perspective, three parties will have central focus in this proposed project: government (and particularly regulators), the construction industry, and building owners (including the commercial property industry).


DT3c: Improving the role of the insurance sector for disastrous events - an experimental approach

(Ilan Noy and Eberhard Fees)

The project is motivated by the view that the costs of disasters should mainly be covered by insurance companies, rather than by tax payers. This position is supported by several arguments. It is fairer as those who live in exposed areas pay for the expected costs by their insurance premiums, thereby reducing moral hazard, and setting incentives for insurance companies to contribute more to risk analyses. The project aims at identifying specific obstacles to universal disaster insurance coverage, and to analyse experimentally the relative importance of these obstacles. This research aims to provide a series of policy recommendations at its conclusion. The project will consist of two phases, an information collection phase a series of incentivized experiments online and/or in the laboratory.


DT3d: Towards a Holistic, Rights Driven Framework for the Regulation of Seismic Risk Reduction

(John Hopkins, Natalie Baird and Annick Masselot)

This sub-theme focusses on the development of cross–sectoral approaches to create a holistic framework for regulation of seismic risk in Aotearoa New Zealand. The work builds upon work undertaken in QuakeCoRE I, which recognized the disconnected nature of legal frameworks around planning and building law from wider aspects of the disaster law framework. The project will map and, with reference to overseas best practice, provide avenues for reform that would allow for a rights-based approach to seismic risk regulation to provide greater coherence through its mainstreaming into the “ordinary” legal framework. The project will link with existing work being undertaken by the team through the RNC challenge (urban) and the DEVORA research programmes examining recovery focused regulatory frameworks.

This sub-theme will specifically look to incorporate existing QuakeCoRE funded research on gender impacts of disasters and the right to housing. These specific elements will feature as a wider human rights approach to disasters, driven by the IFRC and international legal developments (e.g. ILC’s draft articles on the “Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters”. This will link closely with IP3 and will specifically link with the Right to Housing project being developed in that programme and outlined below.

Within the general human rights discourse, individuals and groups are typically the beneficiaries of human rights, with states or national governments being the duty bearers, responsible for guaranteeing rights. However, local governments often have a much greater impact on people’s daily lives than the national government, and there is now increasing interest in the role of local government in respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in various different contexts. This theme/sub-theme will therefore consider the potential for local governments to use human rights-based approaches in its responses to earthquakes and other disasters in the housing context and beyond. This may include looking at how local governments might draw on human rights to better respond to the needs of particularly vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, older people, lower socio-economic groups and ethnic minorities.


DT3e Dispute Resolution after disasters: lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes

(Toni Collins)

This project will examine dispute resolution in the wake of Canterbury earthquakes to ascertain both best practice and problematic systemic issues. Anecdotal evidence from practitioners, government reports and small-scale research (as well as media reports) suggests a fundamental inability of dispute resolution mechanisms in Aotearoa New Zealand to cope in times of disaster. Similar experiences have been seen in the wake of the COVID response. This relates to lack of resilience in the dispute resolution models adopted leading to a reactionary response which led to multiple and varied approaches. This relates particularly to the issue of residential disputes and the impacts they have on mental health and long-term recovery (linking with projects planned with IP3).

This project will look at the dispute resolution sector as a whole, including Courts, Tribunals and bespoke entities established to address particular sectors (e.g., Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunals) as well as equivalent overseas models to understand the challenges and their potential resolution in post-earthquake (and other) disaster situations. The conclusion will provide policy recommendations for improving post-earthquake resilience in the sector as well as reducing the need for dispute resolution by improve mechanisms for channelling expectations.

Our People

Programme Leaders: Ilan Noy, John Hopkins, Olga Filippova 

Researchers: Natalie Baird, Anna Brown, Toni Collins, Olga Filippova, Annick Masselot, Wendy Saunders