Earthquake Recovery Symposium

Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods has announced an earthquake recovery symposium to be held in November. There is a news release concerning this on the Council’s website here.

The news item in Tuesday’s Press says it “… will be held on November 29 and 30 at the University of Canterbury. Up to 250 people from the public, private, community and academic realms will be invited.” Mayor Lianne Dalziel is quoted as saying the symposium will be preceded by a series of workshops.  The full article is on the Press website here .

Maybe my opinion is unduly cynical but it seems to me this is yet another high-risk situation. Many of the principle participants may be serial symposium and conference attendees, rather than practical and experienced people. If so it could end up being a talk-fest for a range of folk who neither directly experienced the after-effects of the earthquakes, nor made a valuable contribution to the recovery effort. Minister Woods is quoted by the Council:

“The Symposium will be an event of national importance, sharing lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes so that New Zealand as a whole can be better prepared in future for any similar natural disasters,” Dr Woods says.

“The Canterbury earthquakes were unprecedented. They provide us with many valuable lessons, which we continue to review and learn from to ensure our communities are more resilient and prepared.

While these people will have something to share, can we be sure about how well the lessons are understood? Such sharing is premature in the absence of substantial external investigations into how well various agencies performed. Some time this year EQC will be up for scrutiny, which is good. However we still await investigation into the performance of CERA, private insurers, Council, and the health system. How can we learn from our experiences if only official respectful, constructive, and forward-focused versions of events are available? Will, with the passage of time, institutional memories be created of heroic and insightful efforts to the exclusion of inconvenient realities? What harm will that do in misinforming future recovery efforts?

And what of Mayor Dalziel’s workshops? Is this a polite way of saying the experiences and knowledge of the ordinary person will funnelled into well managed groups where minders with flipcharts, or sticky notes to put on the wall, will record what is said, promising it will be relayed to the higher-ups? Hopefully Minister Woods will ensure that those who experienced it all first hand, the workers who fixed the problems, the scientists who walked through the silt, the medical professionals who handled the harm, will have an influential and undiluted voice.

As an aside, Minister Brownlee cancelled an earlier proposed symposium in November 2016. A Press article about the cancellation (here) stated “Fifty-one speakers, including overseas attendees, had been confirmed and “speaker guidelines” were produced to ensure a “respectful, constructive, and forward-focused event”. Among those invited to speak were ” … Prime Minister John Key, Sir Peter Gluckman, former EQC boss Ian Simpson and numerous international experts.” Dinner was to be held at the Tannery. A really experienced and well-informed bunch? Will it be a similar cast of characters this year?

Research: Evacuation procedures in big cities after massive earthquakes

The most recent Bulletin of the Tokyo Institute of Technology contains an article on Japanese research into evacuation procedures in big cities after major earthquakes. Based on the behaviour of individuals immediately after the 11th of March 2011 earthquake, the researchers have been looking at models of how people are likely to behave as they attempt to make their own way home, and the hazards they might encounter. Likely to be very pertinent to Wellington, which would have additional hazards from landslips. From the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s website (here):

The Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake occurred on 11 May 2011. On this day all rail services in the Tokyo Metropolitan area were paralyzed amid the unprecedented confusion that followed the tremor.

Thousands people were unable to contact families and friends, and in a state of uneasiness, many decided to return home on foot. Main roads were heavily congested with both cars and people, a state which severely obstructed the movement of emergency vehicles. Here, Toshihiro Osaragi at Tokyo Institute of Technology describes the construction of several models that describe decision-making and behavior of individuals attempting to reach home on foot in the wake of a devastating earthquake. He has simulated the movement of individuals who have decided to return home on foot, and demonstrates the spatiotemporal distribution of those who might be exposed to hazardous city fires on their way home in the aftermath of a massive earthquake, which has been predicted to occur in the Tokyo Metropolitan area in near future. Osaragi research underscores the importance of considering pedestrian flow under such extreme scenarios in order to establish emergency evacuation procedures. “Using the model proposed, we can assess not only the potential number of stranded individuals, but also their detailed attributes,” says Osaragi. “Such information would undoubtedly prove helpful in actual planning for immediate post-disaster mitigation.”

Earthquake Royal Commission – Building Management after Earthquakes

Today the Earthquake Royal Commission heard the first of two days of presentations from a number of specialists on building management after earthquakes. The following are extracts from the opening address from Mark Zarifeh, counsel assisting the Royal Commission.

The hearing set down for the next two days will address the Terms of Reference requirement of the Royal Commission to inquire into the legal and best-practice requirements for the assessments and remedial work on buildings after an earthquake having regard to lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes and how those requirements compare to similar matters in other countries. This hearing is an opportunity to consider the issues that were raised in those hearings and other issues in order to determine how we can ensure we have a post-earthquake building management system that meets legal and best-practice requirements. Those submissions cover a wide range of issues, including:

  • the “trigger” to require a building assessment process
  • the test to be applied by engineers/inspectors to determine re-occupancy
  • the publics understanding of that test and the issue of “risk”
  • whether different considerations should apply to different types of buildings, such as URM buildings, multi-storey buildings or heritage buildings
  • the placarding system, in particular the green placards.
  • the transition from the emergency period to the recovery period and the legislative framework that provides for that.
  • the capabilities and training of engineers and building inspectors involved on the process.
  • Communication between engineers and the public over concepts such as “safe to occupy”

All of the presentations and other material can be found by going to the document library (here) and under Subject selecting “Building assessments after earthquakes”.

Alpine fault

The website Science Daily has an article on the alpine fault (here). This news has been reported in New Zealand, but the Science Daily approach is less emotive. The introduction reads:

A new study published in the journal Science, co-authored by University of Nevada, Reno’s Glenn Biasi and colleagues at GNS Science in New Zealand, finds that very large earthquakes have been occurring relatively regularly on the Alpine Fault along the southwest coastline of New Zealand for at least 8,000 years.

The team established that the Alpine Fault causes, on average, earthquakes of around a magnitude 8 every 330 years. They estimate the 50-year probability of a large Alpine fault earthquake to be about 27 percent. The University of Nevada, Reno media release is here.

Earthquake Royal Commission – Building Management After Earthquakes

The Royal Commission have added a discussion paper Building Management After Earthquakes to their on-line library here.

The discussion paper poses a series of questions and people may respond to the questions directly, respond to some but not others, or generally discuss the topics in the paper.

From the Royal Commission’s website:

This discussion paper focuses on how buildings were managed in Christchurch after the September 2010 earthquake. It looks at matters that may have led to problems in how the building safety operation was carried out that would be likely to happen again (i.e. problems with the system, rather than whether it was done well or not). The paper does not address every issue people have identified in submission or reports to the Royal Commission to date. These will be addressed in our final report. The paper focuses on how we can improve things using a range of tools – not just legislation.

The discussion paper seeks comment on the implementation and effectiveness of the building management processes used after the 4 September 2010 and 26 December 2010 earthquakes. It asks what lessons can be learnt about how to manage an area’s building stock to better meet the goal of ensuring public safety after a disaster.