Here's a thought-starter for the New Year. If Wellington was devastated by an earthquake of the 7.3 magnitude that has reduced the Haitian capital of Port au Prince to ruins, would Kiwis embrace help from the US Navy?

News reports indicated the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was expected to arrive in Haiti yesterday, spearheading the major relief mission President Barack Obama has ordered to deliver humanitarian relief to shocked earthquake survivors.

It should not escape notice that the Carl Vinson is a vessel of the Nimitz class - the fleet of nuclear-powered ships which are the pride of the US Navy.

They have been increasingly used in recent years for disaster response, including delivering relief after the devastating 2004 Boxing Day earthquake which caused the huge tsunami which wreaked havoc throughout Asia and nations bordering the Indian Ocean.

Nuclear-powered ships are banned from entering New Zealand waters under the anti-nukes legislation that David Lange's Labour Government introduced in the 1980s.

It is arguable that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, New Zealand can't prevent nuclear ships making innocent passage through our waters.

But I'm betting that the John Mintos of this world, who were poised to air their ageing vocal cords this weekend against the planned visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to New Zealand, would still be pig-headed enough to form a picket line outside the US Consulate office in Auckland if any US nuclear-powered carrier deployed our way for humanitarian reasons.

The big question is whether New Zealand could cope with the effects of a major disaster.

Cynics might say the reason Haiti was brought to its knees by a mere 7.3 magnitude earthquake was that its many concrete buildings were shonky.

And that the reason the Boxing Day tsunami caused such a major loss of life was that international warning systems failed.

But much of downtown Wellington didn't exist until an earthquake reckoned to have been at least 8.0 on the Richter scale raised the harbour floor in 1855.

As an example, the Basin Reserve, now home to a celebrated cricket ground, was to have been made into a shipping basin.

The brute reality is that New Zealanders are under-prepared for a big earthquake - particularly in the capital city.

The NZ Government spent mega-millions strengthening Parliament Buildings a decade or so ago.

Many Government institutions are now claimed to be housed in earthquake-proofed buildings.

But the working day only takes up 8 to 12 hours of most people's days.

It's a moot point that if a major earthquake hit the capital, many of its key political and government players might well be at home.

Even Premier House, where Prime Minister John Key puts his head down when in Wellington, is smack on the fault-line that runs through Thorndon.

The hill above Premier House is at high risk of slope failure.

In all, it is probably one of the most dangerous places to reside, according to geological survey maps.

Those same maps indicate the airport and major highways are also vulnerable.

The house in which I am writing this column looks across the valley to the Thorndon fault-line.

But the fact that it is not in the most dangerous area does not provide much comfort.

Wellingtonians are typically told to have enough food and water to get them through three days after which the Government will come to the rescue.

But getting even 300,000 litres of water per day into the capital after a devastating quake seems a stretch.

Then there are the 'What If?" factors.

What if the quake was above 8 on the Richter scale and centred directly under the city?

What if the South Island fault-line shifted? What if Taupo blew, or Ruapehu, or any of the so-called dormant volcanoes in Auckland?

It is not unreasonable to explore these "what ifs" given New Zealand's position in the Pacific ring of fire and the many earthquakes that have afflicted other Pacific island nations in the past few years.

In the US, the Pentagon's Haiti mission is increasingly been seen as part of a paradigm shift in the application of American power.

Marine Corps commander General James Conway put it this way in testimony to the US Congress in 2007: "The basic premise of our maritime strategy is that the United States is a force for good in the world - that while we are capable of launching a clenched fist when we must, offering the hand of friendship is also an essential and prominent tool in our kit.

"That premise flows from the belief that preventing wars is as important as winning wars."

New Zealand is not an economic basket case, like Haiti.

Neither is it likely to be subject to major security threats that will be posed by the impact of climate change on subsistence nations.

But at its most fundamental, New Zealand is still comprised of two isolated islands.

If a major disaster strikes here, would we cock a snoot at US help - however it might be delivered?