Code compliance failure responsible for over 100 deaths in building collapse during New Zealand earthquake

February 22, 2012 |
Lynne Simnick

A technical report on the failure of the Canterbury Television building during an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011 illustrates how important seismic codes are in saving lives. The collapse killed 115 people, including 65 foreign students. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake claimed the lives of a total of 184 people in the country.

The report found the CTV building did not comply with the building code when it was first built in 1986. “Adevastating finding, considering the collapse of this building was responsible for more than 60% of the deaths in the earthquake,” said a Labour Party earthquake recovery spokeswoman.

Three critical factors were found to contribute to the building’s collapse:

  • Intense horizontal ground shaking.
  • Lack of ductility in the columns, making them brittle.
  • Asymmetrical layout of the shear walls, making the building twist during the earthquake, placing extra strain on the columns.

Current building requirements are more stringent now than in the 1980s when the CTV building was constructed. Standards have improved over time as more is understood about how buildings respond in earthquakes. “The findings of the investigation will make a difference to the way the buildings are designed and constructed in the future – both in New Zealand and internationally,” according to a Department of Building and Housing executive.


NOTE: This information is the opinion of the author/blogger and not the official position of IAPMO.

Lynne Simnick | Codes and Standards

Lynne Simnick is the Director of Code Development for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and is responsible for the supervision and oversight of the creation and maintenance of all IAPMO codes and code supporting documents. Ms. Simnick has more than twenty-eight years experience in the plumbing industry including code development, education and training, plan review and evaluation services. Prior to joining IAPMO, Simnick worked as technical staff in engineering services, educator, inspector and plumber. She has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education and Mechanical Engineering Technology. Simnick has authored many technical articles, participated in numerous standards committees with an expertise in code and standards development.

Ms. Simnick may be contacted at IAPMO, 909-472-4110 or email

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