York’s buildings being surveyed for ‘earthquake proofing’

Geoscience Australia is surveying buildings vulnerable to an earthquake in York. Picture: Supplied
Geoscience Australia is surveying buildings vulnerable to an earthquake in York. Picture: Supplied

GEOSCIENCE Australia is surveying buildings in York this week with the aim of reducing the town’s vulnerability to an earthquake by retrofitting the town’s national heritage treasures.

York is in one of the most seismically-active areas of Australia.

York Town Hall built in 1911 is among the heritage-listed buildings at risk of obliteration in an earthquake.

Just 43km away, an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter magnitude scale destroyed the town of Meckering in 1968.

York is the first town site in the country selected for the earthquake mitigation study.

Geoscience Australia structural engineer Mark Edwards said the team began taking photographs of buildings in Avon Terrace on Monday, using vehicle-mounted digital cameras to record the architectural features of the buildings.

The visual record will focus on the number of storeys, chimneys, parapets and the primary construction materials.

York Town Hall is among the buildings at risk. Picture: Supplied

Mr Edwards said the team is using technology to ‘virtually apply’ various retrofits to York historical buildings to understand what modifications are most effective in reducing the damage from a large earthquake.

“The hazard has been ignored until quite recently… and we can’t forecast an earthquake,” he said.

Mr Edwards said earthquake hazard was only fully recognised for Australian building design in the early ‘90s after the Newcastle earthquake in 1989.

He said knowledge of the most effective retrofit measures for older masonry buildings would strengthen buildings and result in more resilient communities.

“The research will not only benefit the Shire of York but also other small Australian towns with similar structures such as Northam and Toodyay,” he said.

Seismic activity is monitored across the country and a seismic activity station is based at Mundaring Weir.

Mr Edwards said York was at moderate risk of an earthquake; a magnitude scale of 4 would alert emergency services.

In the event of an earthquake, he said people should take cover under a table and hold on to it.

“Do not run out of a building where there is risk of falling masonry and do not stand in a doorway; stay put until the shaking stops,” he said.

Geoscience Australia is collaborating with the Shire of York, the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and the University of Adelaide on the project.

Other aspects of the project involve a survey of community businesses in York to assess the potential economic disruption likely to result from a large earthquake, an assessment of the losses and the benefits of a staged mitigation.

Another aim is to develop scenarios to assist Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Shire of York with emergency management planning.

The project forms part of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Collaborative Research Centre project “cost-effective mitigation strategy development for building-related earthquake risk”.

Work on the project will continue in March and April with small teams from Geoscience Australia and the University of Adelaide gathering information on York’s older masonry buildings using hand-held computers, digital cameras and the vehicle mounted camera system.

A report on the survey findings will be provided to York council later this year.

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