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The Government has ordered an urgent review of New Zealand's patchy tsunami-readiness systems because of concerns they are not adequate.

Cabinet papers issued under the Official Information Act show concern whether there would be enough warning of a tsunami from the Southern Ocean, the southwest Pacific or one generated close to our shores. Officials have been told to report by September on ways to improve managing tsunami risks.

One area identified is completing the GeoNet seismic warning project funded by the Earthquake Commission, which has a $25 million shortfall.

Another is for a national publicity programme to tell the public what to expect and do if there is a tsunami.

The papers were prepared for the January Cabinet meeting that approved $68 million in New Zealand aid for victims of the Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami.

That catastrophe alerted the Government to big holes in New Zealand's preparedness for a similar event.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii would pick up tsunamis caused only by quakes or volcanic eruptions in the northeast Pacific and off the South American coast.

But tsunamis could also be caused by events close to shore in New Zealand and in the Southern Ocean and the southwest Pacific.

On December 24, just two days before the disaster in Southeast Asia, a 20cm tsunami was recorded at Bluff after a magnitude 8.1 quake in the Southern Ocean. That was 2004's biggest until the magnitude 9 quake off Sumatra, but was too far from New Zealand to cause damage.

The papers highlight the need to complete the GeoNet system, which provides seismic monitoring to warn the public of volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis.
The commission runs it in collaboration with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

In early January, the commission said it hoped to have considered by now whether to fully fund the GeoNet project to give better warning of tsunamis.

But commission general manager David Middleton said last week that the issues were still being discussed, and a decision was likely to take about three months.

The Cabinet papers also suggest the need for a national tsunami public education campaign. At present, tsunami readiness is the responsibility of regional and local councils.

A national campaign would "add value" to local ones because many New Zealanders spend time at coasts, messages would be better absorbed if consistent nationwide and it would be more cost-effective than lots of local campaigns, the papers say.

Local authorities around Wellington and the Wairarapa are distributing a tsunami-preparedness leaflet to households.