What would you do?

If a tsunami was headed for Hawke's Bay's east coast, after a major earthquake, Napier locals would have 30 to 50 minutes to get to safe ground, or out of town.

And up to 20,000 of them could head for Napier Hill - the closest elevated ground to Napier's Marine Parade.

A unique two-year research project has looked at what would potentially happen if the city tried to evacuate, how would people react and where would they go.

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The project has been funded by Natural Hazards Research Platform was led by GNS Science, Massey University, East Coast Lab and the University of Canterbury, with the support of local communities, Councils and Civil Defence Management Groups.

It is extraordinarily pertinent for Napier, a town that lives with the poignant legacy of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

More than 250 people died and thousands were injured in a quake centred about 15km north of Napier.

These days, if a quake struck further off shore, there is a real risk of tsunami
Dr William Power, a tsunami modeller at GNS Science, is careful to point out that the research and information is being shared with agencies that will ultimately offer advice, such as Civil Defence.

But there are some obvious challenges that are emerging - what to do with 20,000 people trying to get on Napier Hill, for a start.

As Power says: "We are trying to identify bottlenecks and parts of town that are going to take relatively longer. We get some idea of the number of people that can be expected to arrive in different locations. For instance, a lot of people heading to Napier Hill. Civil Defence and others need to plan for that. "

It is not a flat-topped maunga with easy access, it is a lumpy rabbit's warren of frequently narrow streets.

The problem could be eased, suggests Power, with the construction of towers or buildings that are designed to withstand tsunami, but also provide safe harbour in an emergency, and are easy to access.

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They have been built in Japan, another country with earthquake prone zones, and tend to be multi-purpose.

That is, they do not sit idle awaiting tsunami - they are used daily with the secondary, life saving bonus of being perfect structures to escape to in an emergency.

Napier is a town with a history of creative architecture, prompted by an earthquake. How apt it would be to introduce modern architecture to the city, linked to earthquakes.