The earthquake in Chile last weekend exposed yet again some disturbing holes in our preparedness - as individuals and as a nation - for a major catastrophe.

The seventh-equal biggest quake of all time took place in a notoriously earthquake- prone country, separated from us by an uninterrupted expanse of ocean that could potentially have delivered a devastating tsunami to our shores.

Yet, incredibly, hundreds of sightseers flocked to beaches to await the wave.

Civil Defence cannot be held responsible for the stupidity of individuals but it has contributed to a potentially tragic sense of complacency.

Its dithering on this occasion - it did not issue a tsunami warning until midnight, by which time many people who enjoy a beach walk on a Sunday morning would have been asleep - and the unreliability of information it has sent out in the past, combine to undermine the public confidence that is necessary for the system to work.

Warnings not heard or not taken seriously are not warnings at all.

The North Shore City Council blunder that resulted in 5000 households being told the tsunami warning was just a drill added a surreal touch that would be funny if it were not so serious.

This country sits on the edge of a Pacific ring of fire. It is a matter of when, not if, nature wreaks havoc on us - by earthquake or volcano, or by a tsunami from a seismic or volcanic incident elsewhere.

We owe it to ourselves to be more canny than we were last weekend - and to demand a better performance from those charged with keeping us safe.