Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Govt urged to fund 24/7 warning system for tsunamis

Napier residents fled to higher ground early on Monday after a tsunami warning triggered by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo /  Paul Taylor
Napier residents fled to higher ground early on Monday after a tsunami warning triggered by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo / Paul Taylor

The Government is being urged to fund an around-the-clock monitoring and warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis in New Zealand.

Following Monday's quake and tsunami threat, Geonet director Ken Gledhill reiterated the need for a 24/7 monitoring centre.

He said the existing situation was "not ideal" because "we have to wake people and get them out of bed to look at complex data and make serious calls very quickly".

Speaking to the Herald, Gledhill said staff had been pulling all-nighters since Monday's quake and it was "not sustainable" for longer than a week.

A full-time monitoring system would require eight more staff and some technological upgrades, and would take three years to set up, he said.

It would allow hazards to be detected more quickly, and people could be warned through an app, similar to the one Geonet already uses.

Gledhill said it would be most useful for warning large coastal populations about a tsunami triggered from offshore faultlines such as the Kermadec Trench.

But it could also be applied to quakes, volcanoes and other hazards.

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee would not rule a change to the monitoring system today, saying he wanted to discuss the matter with Geonet's owner GNS Science.

But it was "not something we will be doing in the next 24 hours", he said.

Labour leader Andrew Little backed the call for an upgraded monitoring system, saying a country built on multiple faultlines needed a full-time agency.

The absence of a 24-hour system appeared to have contributed to "confusing messages" about a potential tsunami following Monday's quake, he said.

The Labour leader lives near the coast in Wellington's Island Bay, and said he only became aware of a potential tsunami because of radio coverage of warnings in Christchurch.

Gledhill noted in his blog that even a full-time monitoring centre might not have been quick enough for the Kaikoura population on Monday.

"The best advice is still: if you are at the coast, and feel a long or strong earthquake, be gone"

"We were lucky the tsunami struck at low tide; high tide could have left more damage than I feel comfortable thinking about."

- NZ Herald

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