New Chief Engineer role connects policy, research, engineering practice

Professor Ken Elwood from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has been appointed to the new role of Chief Engineer for the EQC and MBIE.

Professor Ken Elwood, newly appointed Chief Engineer for EQC and MBIE. Photo: EQC

Connecting policy, research and engineering practice between agencies is a “massive step” in improving building resilience in New Zealand, says Dr Ken Elwood, who was recently appointed as Chief Engineer by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The engineering professor at the University of Auckland hopes the new position will strengthen the relationships between industry, relevant academic and research organisations, as well as EQC and MBIE, whilst also bringing a strategic lens to resilience strategies, direction and sector wide initiatives

Already Dr Elwood has started conversations with the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand, New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, New Zealand Geographical Society, MBIE and EQC to explore possible improvements to how engineers assess the expected seismic performance of existing buildings and design suitable retrofits.

EQC’s Chief Resilience and Research Officer Dr Jo Horrocks has high hopes for what EQC and MBIE can do together.

“Developing constructive partnerships and enduring relationships will provide a far more collaborative approach to informing and driving risk-reduction activities in New Zealand,” says Dr Horrocks, who admits that it has been a battle to get natural hazard resilience embedded in all aspects of decision-making for our communities.

“Through the work that Ken is doing, it is my hope that we will bring science, policy and practice closer together to solve some of the key challenges facing New Zealand’s disaster resilience,” she says.

EQC and MBIE have a shared objective to increase the resilience of New Zealand’s buildings and reduce the impact of natural hazards on people and property.

“The purpose of this dual-agency position is to act as a key champion of resilience, but also bring in research that’s practical and beneficial to back policy that works,” says Dr Elwood.
Dr Elwood hopes to bring the right people together to address critical challenges, work on solutions and initiatives, and better position New Zealand’s construction environment for the future.

“It’s important to recognise that improving building resilience needs more than just best practice or minimum guidelines. I believe the Chief Engineer position is a massive step towards this,” says Dr Elwood.

“Collaboration between EQC and MBIE on previous building resilience projects has been successful, including the ongoing revision of the National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM).”

Dr Elwood is no stranger to the natural hazards we face in New Zealand, having experienced the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 first-hand. Since then, he has pursued research to help support earthquake risk reduction.

“It was a life-changing experience in many different ways, and it has definitely impacted me as a researcher.”

Dr Elwood says that science is always evolving and while the intentions of researchers, policy makers and engineers are good, they understandably concentrate on their individual areas.

“Also, sometimes it’s like everyone is speaking another language and important things get lost in translation.

“A role like this can broker end-to-end knowledge sharing and collaboration from science to policy to practice, helping to produce practical standards and guidelines that improve building resilience in the real world.”

Among Dr Elwood’s top priorities is the Seismic Risk Work Programme.

This programme involves working with Kiwi earthquake engineering experts to assess possible changes to the building code and supporting documents in response to new knowledge of the likelihood of earthquakes across New Zealand from the NSHM to be released in 2022. It will also lead to building code updates in late 2023 and 2025.

Always seeking to work at the cutting edge of research and engineering practice, Canadian-born Dr Elwood has served as a member of several international code committees and currently sits on the American Concrete Institute Building Code Committee.

This press release was produced by the Earthquake Commission and is republished with permission.

Media queries

Alison Sims | Media adviser
 021 249 0089