Count on your neighbour in a quake

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014

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A swing in focus away from engineering strength and towards community resilience will stand Wellington in good stead when a big shake strikes, experts say.

As Christchurch marks the third anniversary of the fatal 2011 quake, GNS earthquake geologist Russ Van Dissen said the importance of neighbourliness and post-disaster planning for households and businesses were the big lessons from the disaster.

"Even if we could predict an earthquake, that will not help at all the way Wellington looks after that quake. Really, what matters for you and me is how resilient the community is."

Community strength was a priority for the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office, which had fostered community disaster plans in Otaki, Wainuiomata and Tawa, he said. Wellington City Council had established New Zealand's first council resiliency unit, and the United Nations recently chose Wellington for a new international city resilience project. "We're beginning to sing from the same songsheet, and everybody is learning how to do this better. In a few more decades, Wellington will be in much better shape."

That did not let engineers off the hook, however. The city needed to avoid physical damage such as the large chunk of CentrePort that fell into the sea during the Seddon earthquake last July.

"To get a supply of materials to Wellington, you need an operable port. That was disappointing to see . . . it go underwater with not a great deal of shaking," Mr Van Dissen said.

Christchurch's 2011 disaster gave new impetus to GNS's "It's Our Fault" research project, which is trying to predict the geographical extent of a quake on Wellington's faults and the tectonic subduction zone beneath.

Scientists were trying to map breaks in faultlines, which could limit quakes to sections of the fault, Mr Van Dissen said. The Wellington fault broke at Kaitoke, and the southern extent was being researched for its impact on tsunamis.

The Cook Strait quakes had not increased Wellington's risk of "the big one", Mr Van Dissen said.

Christchurch, the Cook Strait and Eketahuna quakes had made Wellington the most prepared city in New Zealand, Wremo controller Bruce Pepperell said.

Twelve thousand Grab & Go bags had been bought in the region since 2011, and 3500 Wellingtonians had bought 200-litre water tanks since they were introduced last July.

Wremo is about to launch two new preparedness brochures, one for businesses and the other to connect household plans together in a neighbourhood.

Lack of motivation, rather than lack of information, stopped some Wellingtonians being prepared, Mr Pepperell said.

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"If people don't understand we live in an unstable world, they haven't got eyes or ears. There's a perception that it won't happen to me, it'll happen to somebody else. That was the lesson from Christchurch, where they thought it's Wellington that has earthquakes, not us."

The Earthquake Commission has paid out $16.5 million for damage to properties in last year's three Cook Strait quakes. Of 12,149 claims, 95 per cent have been assessed. Wellington city residents lodged 3326 claims.

It had not begun assessing the 3725 claims from Wellington Anniversary Day's Eketahuna quake.

- The Dominion Post

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