NHRP / Hazard themes / Societal Resilience / Societal Resilience 2011-12

Societal Resilience 2011-12

Social research to support policy and operational activities

An image of the GNS-based social science team.  The social science group also includes researchers from the University of Canterbury and Opus.

The Canterbury earthquakes have provided extreme challenges for government departments in both policy and operational activities. Research has shown that recovery depends not just on people’s abilities to cope with the physical impacts but how individuals, communities and organisations support the complex and protracted processes of community recovery. Agencies and departments such as Canterbury Recovery Authority (CERA), Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (CDEM), Department of Building and Housing, Tertiary Education Commission, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economic Development, Statistics NZ, and Ministry of Health have partnered on projects covering topics as diverse as risk communication, roles of public education, shifts in tertiary populations, psychosocial impacts, internal migration, and business impacts and recovery.

Following the earthquakes, Platform researchers formed a Psychosocial Recovery Advisory Group to help support organisations involved in the recovery process. The advisory group reviewed and summarised evidence-based research findings for a range of organisations and provided a definition of psychosocial recovery. In partnership with the New Zealand Psychological Society, a special issue of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology was released that presented research and a range of professional experiences related to the changing condition of the population of Canterbury in the aftermath of the last earthquakes.

In collaboration with the TEC, the Platform facilitated a research project (largely completed by the end of 2011) concerned with the effects of the earthquake on the tertiary sector in Christchurch. This involved three distinct projects: A comparative analysis of the impacts of the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes on both local (general) population counts and on tertiary enrolments, also the effects of the Kobe earthquake and Hurricane Katrina on general and tertiary student populations in the impacted regions. The aim was to use these earlier, international urban disasters to provide a broad sense of the range of possible impacts, and of the relation between disaster scale and the tertiary enrolment impacts. A second project looked at the lessons learned on the UC and CPIT campuses after the 4th September and 22nd February events, while the third drew these together with a US emergency response model to create a set of emergency response guidelines for New Zealand tertiary education organisations, with the aim of informing policy in this area.

Research and advice on public education has attracted considerable interest. A recent workshop entitled “Building an Evidence Base for Public Education Post the Canterbury Earthquakes” highlighted that public education for emergency management goes beyond the CDEM sector. Harmonisation with other sectors which directly and indirectly contribute to public understanding of risks and their mitigation, such as health and education, is critical to future success, as is ongoing evaluations measuring the influence and effects of public education programmes.. Also the differences between public education and crisis communications need to be recognised in the research and practice. Communicating with the public is framed by the context in which the information is being used and shared.

After the 22nd February event, a position for a local social scientist liaison was established. Based on the science desk during the emergency response, this role is now part of the community wellbeing team working with CERA.

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