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Building a more resilient Christchurch

After more than a year since a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on 22 February 2011 — causing substantial damage to key public infrastructures — the New Zealand government is swiftly moving to rebuild the city to its former ...


The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) is a design and construction alliance between local government authorities, Christchurch City Council, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, New Zealand Transport Agency and private organisations, including the Delivery Teams City Care, Downer, Fletcher Construction, Fulton Hogan and MacDow New Zealand.

Together, SCIRT moves towards repairing the damaged city’s horizontal infrastructure which consists of roads, water supply, and stormwater and wastewater systems.

“I am part of the engineering team which consists of about 300 staff. Our main priority is to rebuild the underground utility infrastructure,which includes the three key water networks (water, wastewater and stormwater) and the road infrastructure.”

According to a December 2011 report by SCIRT, the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes both caused an estimated NZ$2.2 billion (US$ 1.8 billion) worth of damage to the city’s horizontal infrastructure and other essential services.

To be specific, SCIRT was looking at 300km of damaged sewer pipes, 895km of damaged roads, 124km of damaged water mains and more than 50,000 individual road faults.

“This is why the word ‘rebuild’ is part of SCIRT’s name. It’s not the type where teams would just fix the damage and move on; in our case, the extent of the damage that we’re looking at involves very crucial elements of the city’s underground infrastructure that needs to be either completely rebuilt or redesigned.”

What do we rebuild first?

At the heart of the plans for rebuilding Christchurch's underground infrastructure is a one-stop interactive online map that adopts the principles of Spatial Data Infrastructure.

“There were plans to use a local authority council system, but we decided to embark on a collaborative effort to build a system of our own,” he says.

“For the first couple of months we worked extensively on setting up a small local authority GIS team that would work with the council in getting web services feeds from core data sets so that we could effectively build up a database for us to to clearly see priorities.”

Gulson says that much of the work involved getting the utility companies to bring in the data needed for the SCIRT’s design engineers to have a common operating picture of all the underground infrastructure.

“Sharing this information in this way is unusual. While it may seem that all cities would have some form of map that covers everything to do with utilities and infrastructure, in reality, each organisation with underground services maintains its own data.”

The result is a centralised spatial database system of all the project’s horizontal infrastructure data, which not only included utilities but also planning, cadastral, topographic, and environmental data.

The system allows SCIRT to access up-to-date data about the location and state of infrastructure services across the city. This is then integrated with cadastral property data from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), allowing Gulson’s team to better plan their rebuilding activities across a large network in a more coordinated way.

“It serves as a portal that enables us to access all the base datasets so our team and the different design groups have an understanding of what we are really working on and how we should allocate our resources and energy.”

“Rebuilding the city is a massive task and some projects or areas of work will take priority over others. Determining which parts comes first is a complex task, and it is important to have a robust planning process behind it.”

Furthermore, the system enables Gulson’s team to have a city-wide picture of the current condition of all the assets and their prioritisation within the overall work programme — all thanks to the system’s multi-criteria analysis.

“The benefits of having this system in place are almost limitless. We were able to carefully plan and manage the city’s infrastructure needs, which allowed us to reduce some technical costs with minimal disruption – for example, digging up roads once for multiple infrastructure replacement, and more efficient placement of pipes and cables. “

He adds that the people of Christchurch will also benefit from the system as a result of more efficient services to their properties and a stronger, better planned infrastructure.

Gulson reveals that LINZ is also helping improve this service through a proposed bundle of geospatial projects. These projects aim to assist the Canterbury earthquake rebuild effort as well as to contribute to the development of a national spatial data infrastructure framework for New Zealand.

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