Expert: Cities must capitalise on Chch quake experience

CTV presentation director Tom Hawker comforts his workmates as police and volunteers work to rescue people trapped in the collapsed CTV building. Photo / Geoff Sloan
CTV presentation director Tom Hawker comforts his workmates as police and volunteers work to rescue people trapped in the collapsed CTV building. Photo / Geoff Sloan

New Zealand cities must capitalise on Christchurch's earthquake experience if they are to make themselves more resilient to natural disasters, a top quake expert says.

Speaking at the Royal Society in Wellington last night as part of the National Library's Big Data discussion series, University of Canterbury (UC) geologist Dr Mark Quigley said the post-disaster awareness bubble created by the earthquakes was shrinking. He said costly mistakes such as the development of flood and liquefaction prone parts of eastern Christchurch in the 1990s and early 2000s were examples of "what could continue" if the public did not seek a deeper understanding of the Christchurch experience.

"If councils yield to developers and allow vulnerable land to be zoned and built upon and insurance companies are willing to come to the party then people will buy there, regardless of the risk," he said.

"This is a major psychological and financial risk that people take, commonly because the consequences of relatively infrequent but potentially catastrophic events are not really thought about."

Dr Quigley called on New Zealanders to move from a generalised awareness that natural disasters such as earthquakes occur to a more specific understanding of how such events could impact on them personally and financially.

"We all know about earthquakes, but is it possible that we could get a rock fall event in our backyard that could bury our house? Is our home or workplace up to the building code? How vulnerable are our buried lifelines? Will we be without sewerage, water, power and internet for weeks after an earthquake, such as many people in eastern Christchurch went through?"

Dr Quigley said parts of Wellington and Lower Hutt were areas where extensive liquefaction could be expected to sever buried lifelines in an earthquake.

He urged "everyday people" to pressure authorities to act proactively to deal with these issues before earthquakes, rather than after.

Research suggested the cost of strengthening buildings before a major event is less expensive then demolishing and rebuilding after it. He said proactive lifeline remediation and protection, stricter building code enforcement and careful land use planning were important components of increasing resilience before earthquakes.

"The inconvenience and expense of fixing our Victorian sewers in liquefaction prone areas now, for instance, pales in comparison to the personal, financial, health and environmental costs of waiting for the disaster to eventuate."

Dr Quigley will deliver a keynote address at the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand conference in Christchurch today.

- APNZ

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