News Resilience to the shake: science protecting older buildings against earthquakes

Published:27 March 2024

The new resources are now available to help homeowners and business owners in the event of an earthquake

If an earthquake hits, how stable is your home or business? What can you do to make it safer and help it to survive a shake?

A new set of free resources is now available to help homeowners and businesses take practical action to protect themselves, their property and their business activity in the event of an earthquake.

Australia's leading public sector Earth science agency, Geoscience Australia, and the University of Adelaide, have been working side by side with local government and local emergency management agencies to compile the most up-to-date advice on how to protect older buildings – and their occupants – from earthquake damage.

Head of Community Safety Branch Dr John Dawson explained. “We wanted to give people a clear and easy-to-understand guide to reinforcing existing masonry buildings, especially those built prior to 1946 and well before earthquake hazard became a mandatory part of our building codes.

“Alongside our partners at the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the University of Adelaide and the Shire of York, we’ve developed a suite of resources that will give property owners the information they need.”

The booklets use scientific expertise and findings from places like New Zealand to help property owners assess the risks posed by earthquakes and how these risks can be managed with simple retrofitting.

“The retrofitting is fairly straightforward, and usually can be incorporated into planned renovation works,” Dr Dawson said.

“We have resources for property owners so they can make the right decisions for their buildings, and we also have more technical guides for the design profession and construction industry, which guide them through the retrofit requirements.

“Retrofitting for earthquake safety doesn’t have to be a complicated and expensive process.”

Older masonry buildings such as these in York WA are vulnerable to earthquake damage

Dr Dawson explained that the risk from earthquake in Australia is often under-estimated, which means that many older buildings have been designed without earthquake resilience in mind.

“We don’t have many big earthquakes like Japan and New Zealand, but they do happen, and when they happen, they can cause damage,” Dr Dawson said.

“For example, in 2021, the magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Rawson, Victoria caused structural damage to properties in Melbourne over 100 kilometres away.”

Dr Dawson said that the risk to property was especially relevant for older buildings, with anything built of masonry before World War II being particularly vulnerable.

“Almost every town in Australia has older heritage buildings: old churches, post offices, town halls and even high street shops,” he said.

“They have considerable cultural value, as part of our national history, and we want to give local communities the information they need to protect their heritage against earthquake damage.”

The retrofit resources are publicly available on the GA website.

Read more about the project here.