COMMENT

New Zealand changed forever on September 4, 2010, when the Darfield earthquake struck just outside of Christchurch. That day was also a watershed moment for the Earthquake Commission and the Government's Public Inquiry has highlighted it was illequipped to manage the scale of the disaster. Chief executive Sid Miller looks back at how his organisation has transformed in the past decade to be ready for the next major natural disaster.

The Earthquake Commission of 2020 has little resemblance with the organisation that faced a mammoth task in 2010.

We have undergone around 70 reviews in the past 10 years, the latest being the
Government's Public Inquiry that was formally accepted by the Government this week. EQC has accepted the findings of the review, and we are well underway to implementing the findings of the report.

Advertisement

The Public Inquiry highlighted EQC's failings over the past decade and we have apologised to the people of Canterbury for the additional stress and trauma EQC caused during their recovery.

The Inquiry confirmed that EQC was not equipped to deal with the scale of the disaster it was facing on September 4, 2010, but we have learned from our experiences and made changes to ensure we're well set up to meet the needs of all New Zealanders now and in the future.

There is no doubt, it has been a big transformation for us.

A virtually invisible, tiny Government agency of only 23 staff, has been transformed into a modern, transparent, agile, empathetic and collaborative organisation that can work effectively in partnership with the insurers and central and local government to respond more effectively to future natural hazards.

Prime Minister John Key and farmer Michael Oakley look at stacks of potato bins up-ended by the earthquake at Darfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key and farmer Michael Oakley look at stacks of potato bins up-ended by the earthquake at Darfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell

EQC in 2020 is ready to deal effectively with a large-scale event and can handle up to 100,000 claims through our partnerships with private insurers and third party administrators, with the ability to rapidly gear up for even larger claim numbers where required.

We have also made significant improvements to how we manage claims, with a singular focus on our customer to provide a more streamlined customer experience.

The current claim management system, data integration platform and associated technology are a world apart from what EQC staff and customers were dealing with in 2010.

To put the past 10 years in context, EQC has handled nearly half a million claims from the Canterbury earthquake sequence across nearly 200,000 properties.

Advertisement

All of those properties have received a first-time settlement.

Frustratingly, for Canterbury homeowners and for our staff, many claims have had to be reopened due to faulty repairs or missed scope, and as of 1 August, EQC still had 1500 Canterbury claims to be resolved.

We are committed to the resolution of these claims for homeowners, but we also have an obligation to do this in a way that is aligned with our governing legislation. Some of these claims are extremely complicated, but thanks to the new Government policy for on-sold
properties, as well as the introduction of the Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Service, many homeowners now have a pathway that does not require the courts.

I want to reiterate that it remains EQC's single-minded focus to resolve all Canterbury claims as soon as possible.

As we are working to close the Canterbury claims, EQC continues to evolve so we can respond effectively to the next major natural disaster.

In a beautiful country at high-risk of earthquakes, volcanoes, storms and floods, we make home insurance possible for homeowners by securing the vital reinsurance needed.

Advertisement
Then Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Finance Minister Bill English, address Federated Farmers members affected by the earthquake. Photo / Ross Setford, NZPA
Then Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Finance Minister Bill English, address Federated Farmers members affected by the earthquake. Photo / Ross Setford, NZPA

This year, we were pleased to secure international reinsurance cover of $6.2 billion, which is a record amount and New Zealanders would not be able to get this kind of natural hazard insurance without this EQC underwriting. I regularly hear from overseas contemporaries that our national natural hazard insurance scheme is the envy of many countries living with natural hazards who are unable to get insurance like we do.

But it takes effort. Since a series of costly natural disasters in the past decades, the international insurance market demands to see that New Zealand is working hard to reduce our risk to life and property.

A key asset in those international negotiations is our significant investment in world-leading natural hazards science and engineering research at universities and institutes around the country, including the unique GeoNet modelling tool.

This research enables New Zealanders and their homes to be better prepared to deal with future natural disasters and helps decision-makers to decide where to build stronger homes on better land.

Sid Miller. Photo / Getty Images
Sid Miller. Photo / Getty Images

Just as importantly, the research data enables EQC and its reinsurers to create modelling around future disasters and associated rebuild costings.

With this advanced data modelling, EQC claims experts can quickly predict the impact whenever we are struck by a natural disaster, so the organisation can now rapidly gear up capacity to help our customers by activating event response plans with third-party administrators and private insurers.

Advertisement

This collaboration is light-years away from September 2010 and the effectiveness of this model was first demonstrated after the Kaikoura earthquakes in 2016, and has since evolved even more dramatically.

Subscribe to Premium

Providing a fast, fair and transparent resolution for our customers has become the main focus of EQC. Our staff are trained to keep the customer focus at the heart of every conversation, and while we acknowledge that we don't always get it right, we are pleased this is reflected in customer satisfaction surveys which have seen a significant improvement with 74 per cent of customers reporting satisfaction with the recent quality of service they received in 2020 compared to 49 per cent two years earlier.

Of course, we are still learning, and we will continue to grow and improve. We have been very grateful to our Claimants Reference Group who provide us with advice to improve the experience of current and future claimants.

Ten years on from the Darfield earthquake, we are confident and proud of where we are on our road of continuous improvement to ensure we are there for all New Zealanders when the next natural disasters occur.