The way New Zealand's buildings will be assessed for damage after earthquakes or floods has been improved after major issues were raised by the system used during the Canterbury quakes.

The handling of post-quake building inspections came under fire during the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission hearings.

Some families of the 185 victims questioned why some buildings, especially the PGC and CTV structures, were "green-stickered" and not examined more closely after the initial tremors of 2010 before the killer jolt came on February 22, 2011.

The royal commission heard that the use of green, yellow and red stickers, designed by the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, was confusing for the public and building owners and had never been used on a major scale before.


Today, Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith revealed a new system at the Australasian Structural Engineering Conference in Auckland.

He revealed a shift away from the 'traffic light' system of red, yellow and green placards to indicate the condition of a building.

The colours that will instead be used are red, yellow and white. Red means entry to the building is prohibited; yellow means restricted access; and white means light or no damage.

"The Canterbury earthquakes showed that people assumed a green placard meant the building had no issues and was good to go," Dr Smith said.

"In reality, it meant that on visual inspection the building could be used, but should have used further detailed evaluation.

"The new white placard will indicate that the building is poses low risk, but it does not necessary mean it is safe."

Other changes to New Zealand's emergency building management arrangements are the training of a core group of around 400 building experts and emergency managers to act as 'on-call' assessors, and amendments to the Building Act to strengthen its emergency provisions.

Two new guides published today will provide comprehensive information for building professionals on assessing buildings following an emergency, Dr Smith said.


"These assessments are difficult work because distressed people will want to access buildings urgently, there will be potential safety risks in doing assessments and it will not be possible to do comprehensive engineering checks," Dr Smith said.

"These guides will enable this work to be done more quickly, more effectively and more consistently."

The new systems, manuals and training mean New Zealand will be much better prepared to deal with building safety issues in the event of a future disaster, the minister added.