Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Christchurch quake used as case study for global military

File photo / Simon Baker
File photo / Simon Baker

The deadly 2011 Christchurch earthquake is being used as a case study for China, the United States and Australia, who are all taking part in a unique military training exercise outside Christchurch this week.

Military officials from each country have teamed up with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to work through how they would respond if the South Island's Alpine Fault generated a large-scale tremor.

About 45 military personnel from the Australian Defence Force, the US Army, the Peoples Liberation Army and NZDF took a tour of the rubble-reduced Christchurch central business district yesterday.

Today, and for the rest of the week, they are at Burnham Military Camp on the outskirts of town talking about how each country would react to a similar humanitarian disaster as the February 22, 2011 quake, which claimed 185 lives.

The NZDF deployed more than 1700 personnel at the height of the tragedy, while Australia, the US, and China were among many nations who sent crack Urban Search and Rescue teams.

It's the first time China has taken part in a defence exercise on New Zealand soil, and the Chinese delegation is keen to learn lessons from the Christchurch disaster, which killed 23 Chinese citizens.

"People just help each other," said Senior Colonel (Eds: correct rank) Zhou Bo, who is heading the Chinese contingent.

He said China often faces large-scale disasters including floods, landslides, and earthquakes, and multinational events like Exercise Phoenix Spirit are important to learn lessons and build relationships.

His American counterpart, Colonel Christopher Patton said they had already learned a lot after being talked through the extensively damaged CBD by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials yesterday.

"They were able to tell us the significant challenges they faced in the first few days to the challenges they still face today," he said.

"And certainly those lessons are something we can bring back if there is an event that happens like that for us."

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman visited the parties at Burnham today. Given the Christchurch earthquake, as well as the recent large Wellington jolt, the operation was "very important" for New Zealand, he said.

"This stuff is very real for New Zealanders," Dr Coleman told the 45-strong contingent at a round table discussion.

"We knew we were the Shaky Isles but everything that's happened since the Christchurch earthquakes has made this something that is top of the mind for the public as well as our military people."

The recent Canterbury earthquake sequence makes the region an "ideal place" to run such an exercise, he said.

All four nations have a "very real interest" in what goes on in the Asia-Pacific region.

The plan, he said, is for all four countries to work together to develop humanitarian disaster plans, and in the eventuality that such a disaster occurs again, they can "put those skills to real use".

"Sharing experiences helps to ensure that in the event of a regional disaster, New Zealand remains ready to provide an effective response alongside its international partners," said Dr Coleman.


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