The Kiwi tech that could prevent major building damage from our next big earthquake

It could be tomorrow or in the next few decades, but experts warn another major earthquake is coming.

And that's why officials are urgently trying to find cheaper and easier ways of strengthening the walls of high-risk buildings. 

Engineers at Auckland University are planning for the next big shake by testing cutting-edge technology that could prevent major building damage.

"We need to find cost-effective ways to strengthen these buildings and make sure they are safe," says Enrique del Rey Castillo, Auckland University lead researcher.

Using carbon-fibre, the team has wrapped weak spots on 4m concrete walls loaded with the weight of several storeys.

Despite the sheets being incredibly thin - they're only a couple of millimeters thick, and weigh hardly anything - they're incredibly strong.

"It's three, four, five times stronger than steel," says del Rey Castillo.

Hydraulics were used over two days to slowly shake the wall, pushing it beyond what would happen in an actual earthquake.

The fibre was found to be 50 percent above the gold standard of earthquake strengthening. 

"Luckily we haven't had any earthquake to see if it works, but I am confident that the building is way better off than it was before," del Rey Castillo said.

New Zealand built many problematic concrete buildings before the 1980s. Their walls are thin, meaning in a quake, there's a high chance they'll buckle and collapse. 

But bringing them up to the modern building code is expensive and time-consuming work.

"We all want to see our buildings built strong in New Zealand and the sooner the better," says Natalie Balfour, Earthquake Commission (EQC) research manager.

EQC is funding this research, and says the work is urgent. That's because when the Alpine or Wellington Fault ruptures, the shake would likely cause severe damage to many towns and cities.

"We're seeing a lot of these buildings being reutilised for residential purposes now, so this is really important that they are retrofitted to a standard that can withstand these events," says Balfour.

While no one knows when that will happen, we can prepare for it.