Pandemic more likely than earthquake

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2014

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An infectious disease pandemic is more likely to strike Canterbury than another earthquake, a draft emergency management plan suggests.

The draft Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) plan, released for public consultation yesterday, outlines risks and consequences of potential natural hazards.

Each hazard is classified on a scale of likelihood (almost certain to rare) and consequences (catastrophic to insignificant).

It ranked the risk of a pandemic as "likely", while a local earthquake was deemed "possible". Consequences for both disasters were deemed "major".

The likelihood of a tsunami or an Alpine Fault earthquake was deemed "possible". Both had "catastrophic" consequences, if the tsunami was regional.

Major air accidents, civil unrest and space debris were all classed as "rare".

The draft plan did not rank any hazards in the highest bracket (almost certain; catastrophic).

New Zealand has escaped much of the brunt of recent health scares. Swine flu, or H1N1, killed 49 Kiwis in 2009 , but never reached pandemic proportions.

Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey agreed with the Civil Defence's risk assessment of pandemics.

"It is one of the higher level risks," he said.

Although influenza had been the more common health hazard in recent years, Humphrey said "conceivably there are many other infectious agents that could put us at risk".

New Zealand was well-placed to manage the risk compared with other countries because of its border control measures, he said.

Diseases could "explode and spread very quickly" but there was often advanced warning before it could breach New Zealand's borders, Humphrey said.

Canterbury CDEM group controller Neville Reilly said the risk information was collated with the help of experts in each area.

It allowed authorities to divert attention away from low-risk, low-consequence events "we'd be wasting our time spending our effort on".

The previous plan was developed in 2005 and Reilly said the new plan was "not dramatically different".

"We are doing a lot of it already, to be honest."

He was confident Canterbury had good disaster response procedures already.

"When you think about that major earthquake [in 2011] - I can say this because I wasn't here at the time - the response was pretty remarkable."

Lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes had been learnt, Reilly said.

Community involvement would be a big part of any future response.

"It's so much more effective if communities can be prepared themselves."

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While Cantabrians might be surprised a pandemic was deemed a higher risk than earthquakes, Reilly said almost yearly "there's something happening around the world" in public health.

He expected Christchurch's Justice and Emergency precinct would make co-operation more effective among the various agencies housed in the $300 million building.

Space debris, while rare, was possible.

In 1972, parts from the Soviet spacecraft Kosmos 482 landed in several rural properties in Ashburton.

Public submissions close on February 21. The draft plan is available at www.cdemcanterbury.govt.nz.

RISK ASSESSMENT

Civil Defence risks facing Canterbury:

PANDEMIC Risk: likely. Consequence: major

LOCAL EARTHQUAKE Risk: possible. Consequence: major.

ALPINE FAULT Risk: possible. Consequence: catastrophic

TSUNAMI Risk: possible. Consequence: minor (if distant), catastrophic (if regional).

FLOODING Risk: likely. Consequence: moderate.

- The Press

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