An earthquake warning system could give the public up to a minute's preparation for potential disaster, a researcher says.
However any warning system in New Zealand, if implemented, will be years away, following the formation of a research team to investigate the possibility of an alert system.
The Earthquake Commission is funding a research team to determine whether New Zealand could benefit from an earthquake warning system, how it would work, and what effects it would have.
Research team leader Dr Julia Becker says Kiwis could potentially have a minute's maximum warning, or none at all.
While Japan, Mexico and some parts of the United States have warning systems that can alert people up to two minutes in advance of a large earthquake, Becker said New Zealand's geography and fault location meant any warnings here would be limited - perhaps up to a minute.
People at the quake's epicentre might only get a few seconds warning, or none at all, she said.
"What we're looking at is how it's likely to be used by New Zealanders before anything is planned. This will help define what kind of investment could be most useful," she said.
"An earthquake early warning system is expensive. In New Zealand it would likely take many more seismographs and improvements to our current data transmission and analysis system to be effective."
Researchers would also look at how people used the warning time and what the most effective channels of communication would be. Overseas warning systems have alerted motorists to slow down, for surgeons to make a patient safe, and for people to prepare, Becker said.
EQC is spending $61,000 on the research team, comprised of scientists, engineers, statisticians and modellers. Its aim is to reduce the impact of natural disasters on people and property.
EQC said it was the first step in understanding whether a warning system could benefit the country, where earthquakes have devastated Christchurch, Kaikoura and Wellington in recent years.
In February 2011 185 people were killed after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Christchurch and Lyttelton, and in 2016 two people were killed after a 7.8 quake badly damaged homes and businesses in Kaikoura and Wellington.
Becker said separate studies on economic and engineering aspects of a warning system would be needed "before any serious consideration was given to such a system." The study is expected to take about two years.