People who have been involved in major accidents, or who serve as their office's designated first-aider, are more likely to be prepared to deal with a big natural disaster in the future.

That's according to a just-published New Zealand study that investigated what spurs people to prepare for earthquakes, and how their life experiences might contributed to their motivation.

"We know that having some experience of previous earthquakes can prompt people to get prepared, through having a better understanding of how they might be impacted in future," said lead author Dr Julia Becker, of GNS Science and Massey University's Joint Centre for Disaster Research.

"Earthquakes also raise people's concern and motivate their need to get prepared. We saw a flurry of preparedness activity in Wellington following the Kaikoura earthquake."


Yet despite New Zealand being rocked by several large earthquakes in the past five years, many Kiwis still would not have experienced quakes.

This posed the question: what else might prompt them to prepare?

The study, based on a series of interviews with people around the country and published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, showed that people who lived with an ethos of "preparedness is a way of life" were more likely to be prepared.

Experiences such as helping out in an adverse event, being a civil defence volunteer, being involved in workplace safety at work, being a first aider, suffering ill-health, or being in an accident, all contributed, Becker said.

"So for those who haven't been in a significant earthquake, we need to pay attention to people's life experiences, and use those experiences as motivators of getting prepared."

The researchers also found people's "vicarious" experiences - such as speaking with family or friends who live in places like Canterbury - were also important.

"Their stories of how the earthquakes have impacted their lives can help people living outside the area understand what an earthquake might be like and what they might need to do to prepare."

For those who had lived through disasters, the events would surely have rocked them into vigilance.


"For example, following the 2010 Darfield earthquake in Canterbury, a number of people stated that they didn't get prepared because the earthquake didn't impact them, and thus they thought future earthquakes wouldn't impact them either," Becker said.

"People who find earthquakes quite scary might find it difficult to get prepared - and those people need support and practical advice to help encourage preparedness."

Becker also cited the 2013 Cook Strait and Lake Grassmere quakes that shook the Wellington and Marlborough regions.

"The first earthquake happened on a Sunday when everyone was at home, while the second happened on a Friday afternoon when everyone was at work.

"After the Friday earthquake people got stuck in the city among the chaos, and had difficulty travelling home.

"In a survey after the earthquakes, we found people were more likely to develop a household emergency plan after the Friday earthquake, than the Sunday one, because of the terrible experiences they had getting home.


"So context is everything, and you have to think about the nature of people's experiences in different earthquakes, how they might respond, and what we need to tell people to encourage and support preparedness."

Becker felt the findings highlighted how planners could use people's real-life experiences to get them better prepared - something that wasn't a big focus with educational work with communities.

"People's life experiences are much more 'real' to them and they are more likely to pay attention when preparedness information is framed in a way that is 'real' and relevant to their situation."

How prepared are we for disaster?

According to a Statistics NZ survey - carried out after the biggest Canterbury quakes but before November's 7.8 Kaikoura Earthquake - 22 per cent of New Zealanders believe they have the basic preparations necessary to get through.

Figures from the 2012 New Zealand General Social Survey show the proportion of people with basic preparations - a three-day supply of food and water, and a household emergency plan - was up from 17 per cent in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the region with the highest level of basic preparation was Canterbury - 40 per cent had basic preparations, up from 28 per cent in 2010.


Marlborough (36 per cent) and Hawke's Bay (30 per cent) also had high proportions of people who were basically prepared. In Wellington, 29 per cent of people were prepared and about a quarter of people in the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne region had basic preparations.

The regions with the lowest rates for basic preparation in 2012 were Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Otago, and Southland, where less than one fifth of people prepared.

Nationally, 17 per cent of people had better-than-basic preparations for a natural disaster - they also had a torch, portable radio, spare batteries, first aid kit, and essential medicines, on top of a three-day supply of food and water and a household emergency plan.

This figure was up from 12 per cent in 2010.

Approximately one-third of New Zealand households had an emergency plan in 2012. This has increased steadily from approximately one-quarter of households in 2008.