Fulton Hogan chief Robert Jones explains the importance of resilience to Bill Bennett.

Fulton Hogan chief operating officer Robert Jones says the Christchurch rebuild has given his company a deeper understanding of the importance of resilience, which can be used elsewhere in New Zealand.

Getting to resilience was a personal journey for Jones and for Fulton Hogan which has its headquarters in Christchurch.

The company employs around 1000 people in the city and the earthquakes affected their families.

To Jones, resilience means questioning whether building bigger, stronger and better is always a solution. He says: "To me it is now more about building smarter".

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To illustrate a smarter approach to rebuilding an earthquake-damaged city, Jones talks about the experience of rebuilding the city's sewer network. Before the earthquake Christchurch had a network of concrete sewer pipes five or six metres below the ground.

"Instead of trying to replace all the sewers that were concrete pipes, then having to go back and replace them when there's another earthquake, we're putting in small diameter, lower pressure plastic pipes. They are at a relatively shallow depth and connected to pumps to keep things running.

"If the same thing happens again, getting back in and replacing them is a fairly simple operation. Fixing shallow plastic pipes is certainly a lot cheaper than fixing a concrete pipe five metres underground, and there's much less disruption."

Jones maintains that kind of resilient thinking should apply to other earthquake-prone cities. "Across the country there are common standards for infrastructure - like heavy concrete pipes for sewage - but sometimes you have to challenge them. You need the best solution to get the job done with the minimum amount of disruption."

This last point is more important than it might seem to people outside Christchurch. Three years on from the February 2011 earthquake, the city's road network continues to be disrupted with lines of traffic cones, constant road closures and diversions.

As Jones says: "Every time you go to the shops you have to take a different route".

Because the people working for Fulton Hogan are as tired of this and other disruptions to everyday life as everyone else, they are keen to see easy-to-fix sewer systems.

Jones says other parts of New Zealand are high risk seismic areas but concrete pipes are still being laid. This is partly because councils and other organisations gauge projects by producing a business case based on capital costs. Jones would like to see them move to taking a "whole of life" approach that takes the cost of emergency replacement into account.

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Sewer pipes, along with fresh and storm water networks and roads are what makes up a city's "horizontal infrastructure". In Christchurch the job of fixing horizontal infrastructure has been given to he Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, better known as Scirt.

Fulton Hogan is one of five companies making up the organisation which collectivity is working on a complex set of projects with up to 20 active construction sites operating at any given moment. Scirt is big, spending as much as $500 million a year - but as Jones points out, the money is spread over many individual projects. contrasting with about $300 million that will be spent on Auckland's Waterview motorway in a single year.

The projects making up Scirt are expected to take around five years. Jones says about 40 per cent of the work is done.

Scirt has an unusual structure. Jones describes it as running on a co-operative or alliance model. Five companies are jointly managing the horizontal infrastructure work programme for three clients: Christchurch City Council, Cera and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Jobs are divided among Scirt members based on how well each contractor has performed on earlier work. Nominally they start with 20 per cent each, and then if they perform well, more contracts flow their way. The idea is to get all five performing to the same high standards. Jones says his organisation played a role designing Scirt and it has more than met expectations.

Jones says in itself, the client-designer-contractor alliance model isn't new. He says he was working in Australia in the early 2000s and saw one of the first in this part of the world.

"But to apply it wholesale to a disaster and then to bring in more than one contractor, working together but in separate delivery teams with an element of competition to ensure they are delivering predictably and cost-effectively, is unique".

"The Scirt model is attracting attention from all over the world. It was recently awarded the Brunel Medal by the UK's Institute of Civil Engineers for excellence in civil engineering. It's a prestigious award. We've had visits from Japan, the US and Europe, all looking at how the recovery model works and how they can use a similar model for future disasters." he says.

Scirt has attracted attention for being efficient and for being able to hit the ground running. "The model managed to bring a lot of resources together very quickly and deliver good value," says Jones. "The project has been audited to death and the auditor general identified it as an appropriate response to the Christchurch earthquake."

Jones says the Scirt model could become the new template for dealing with disasters. He says there are a number of different ways feedback is provided from the delivery teams to the designers: "It's all about sharing what went well in a project and making sure other delivery teams get the information".

Fulton Hogan is based in way Christchurch and had a sizeable business in the city before the earthquakes. Though some resources were briefly pulled away from existing projects immediately after the February 2011 quake, Jones says most of the company's work is business-as-usual: "It's important not to let the work we're doing with Scirt distract us from the rest of our business. We'll still be there when the Christchurch rebuild is finished and we need to be sustainable."

He says this means the company treats Scirt the way it would treat any other major project - assembling a team, ramping it up, then as the project finishes, ramping down.

Jones says the company has had to recruit from overseas in order to get the skills in place for Scirt but "we're in the advantageous position that we can make sure there's a good spread of existing Fulton Hogan people in that delivery team.

"These are people who have been with us a long time; they know how our business operates. They know how important our relationships are with our clients - we don't want people in there who are so focused on delivering the immediate project that our long-term relationships go out the window."

Jones says the experience from rebuilding the Christchurch sewer system tells him it is time for councils across the country to have another look at building codes. He wants to see resilience built into the nation's horizontal infrastructure as a matter of course.

He says other cities shouldn't wait for a disaster to learn the same lessons.