Following structural works, the strengthening of a museum in the historic Western Australia town of York could become a model for the protection of lives and heritage buildings in other earthquake susceptible areas.
York in WA's Wheatbelt area is in an active quake zone and is just 50 kilometers from the town of Meckering that was flattened in 1968 by one of the biggest earthquakes to be recorded in Australia.
Works at the Residency Museum involved retrofitting supports in the building's chimneys, Geoscience Australia structural engineer Martin Wehner said.
The museum was part of a convict depot built in the 1850s and was once the local magistrate's home.
"We know historically it has been demonstrated many times around the world that buildings of this nature, the heritage legacy buildings with unreinforced masonry construction and timber floors are quite vulnerable," Mr Wehner said.
He said also that while the area was not as prone to quakes as California, Japan or New Zealand, in Australian terms it was "quite up there".
"The chimney was retrofitted by placing a steel rod down the flue, anchored at the top and the bottom so that gives the chimney some substantial building strength … so in the event of an earthquake it just doesn't snap off and fall through the roof," he said.
"It can actually sustain those forces that an earthquake imposes on it."
"If the earthquake occurs, the building can sway and it can bend and absorb energy that is placed into the building from the earthquake without breaking so the building remains standing."
"There may be some localised damage but the building remains standing and does not collapse so we preserve life in that situation."
The engineer, who works in the community safety section of Geoscience Australia, credits "good timing" to the lack of injuries and deaths in many recent earthquakes in the country.
A magnitude-5 earthquake that shook the WA Goldfields city of Kalgoorlie in 2010 sent masonry from heritage buildings onto the streets below.
"If it had occurred one or two hours later the outcome might have been quite different because the footpaths may well have had people on them and obviously that would have had a bad outcome with all the masonry falling off those parapets," Mr Wehner said.
A spokesperson for the Shire of York said the Residency Museum was "a pilot project for an earthquake building mitigation study by Geoscience Australia and the University of Adelaide".
"Researchers have devised innovative methods of stabilising unreinforced masonry heritage buildings against the risk of earthquake damage and it is funded through a National Disaster Resilience Program grant," the spokesperson said.