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A photograph of the Platform Manager, Dr Hannah Brackley.

Two journal articles* have recently been published that address the establishment of the Natural Hazards Research Platform, and how – as a science responder – the Platform dealt with the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (CES).   The CES was a significant time for the Platform and all of the scientists and engineers involved; we provided the best science advice possible in the national interest, but we know that some things could have run smoother.

I raise this as over the next three months, Platform will be planning its involvement in Exercise Tangaroa – the first full-scale exercise to be held as part of the Interagency (All-of-Government) National Exercise Programme. Taking place over three days, Exercise Tangaroa will include the warning, impact, response and early recovery phases for a significant tsunami. The exercise will be led by MCDEM and supported by all 16 CDEM groups, central government agencies, emergency services, lifeline utilities, plus other agencies and organisations.

It remains a recognised role and expectation that science capability supported by the Platform will be available to assist decision makers during significant hazard events. We will use Exercise Tangaroa to practice how we work constructively with the many science providers across New Zealand to coordinate the science response and assist decision makers. And the lessons coming out of our experience in Christchurch will certainly be an important part of Platform’s planning and participation; a key one being that having working relationships in place before a crisis makes all the difference in how things work during a crisis.

Dr Hannah Brackley - Manager, Natural Hazards Research Platform


Beaven S, Wilson T, Johnston L, Johnston D, and Smith R (2016) Role of Boundary Organization after a Disaster: New Zealand’s Natural Hazards Research Platform and the 2010–2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence. Natural Hazards Review,10.1061/(ASCE)NH. 1527-6996.0000202, 05016003, available online.

Beaven S, Wilson T, Johnston L, Johnston D, and Smith R (2016) Research Engagement after Disasters: Research Coordination Before, During, and After the 2011–2012 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, New Zealand. Earthquake Spectra, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 713-735, available online.   

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 Happy New Year and welcome back! 

A photograph of the Platform Manager, Dr Hannah Brackley.

Allow me to introduce myself – my name is Hannah Brackley and I am the Acting Director of the Natural Hazards Research Platform. Kelvin Berryman, the Director of the Platform for the past 6 years is taking on new endeavours in New Zealand risk management. Not to fear though, Kelvin’s wisdom and guidance on all-things-hazards will continue to inspire us (he’s just down the hall!).  

So what’s new?  

As part of our core business, we have just funded a range of short- and long-term projects that reflect the top priorities of NZ end-users and contribute towards priorities for action under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai Framework). These projects cover geological, weather, flood and coastal hazards, resilient engineering, and economics, and include novel approaches to the topic of resilience (NHRP Projects).

On a larger scale, we are participants in the ‘Resilience’ drive that has entered our collective consciousness.  The Platform was – and is still - the first national programme to address resilience to natural hazards in New Zealand.   The New Zealand funding landscape has now expanded to include QuakeCoRE funded by New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission, and Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, one of the New Zealand Government’s recently established National Science Challenges.  Collectively these programmes expand the opportunities for natural hazards research to contribute to the improved resilience of societies.   The Platform and Resilience Challenge are both hosted by GNS Science, and along with the QuakeCoRE there will be plenty of opportunities to work together.

Sendai Resilience Dialogue 400

Expert panel at 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Photo: Hannah Brackley, NHRP

In what is very good news for New Zealand - nationally - is that others have taken up the call. Members of the business community have formed Resilient New Zealand – a collection of like-minded organisations that are taking the time to reflect on lessons from the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes to mitigate risks from future natural hazard events.  The Rhise Group led by the Canterbury District Health Board with partners, is also sharing lessons from Christchurch to enable the health sector to more effectively respond during crisis events.  East Coast LAB – with participation by Platform researchers – aims to inform North Island east coast communities about hazards along the Hikurangi subduction zone using a mix of outreach, citizen science, and museum education.  These are all great efforts that everyone in New Zealand can access.

As the Platform begins its programme of work through to 2019, we hope you join with us to share, learn and shape a more resilient New Zealand.

Dr Hannah Brackley - Manager Natural Hazards Research Platform

Blog updated 13 June 2016

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While writing this, the negotiation for the Sendai Framework has just been completed after a marathon 30 hour final session of talks. The framework is a 15-year degustation menu which also includes a nod to the upcoming September 2015 Summit to adopt the Post 2015 Development Agenda, and the December 2015 Paris Climate Change negotiation.

What has been discussed in Sendai is very encouraging. Intervention is the key phrase.

It is critical to break the seemingly endless cycle of disaster followed by build back quickly (to appease public expectations), only to do it all over again when the next event arrives. Potential future losses may be beyond the ability of many countries to recover. The recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes has tried to break that mould by ensuring that there is improved resilience going forward by taking the worst land ‘off-risk’ (the residential red zones), improved technical specifications of the infrastructure rebuild, and a lot of community and business resilience efforts, encouraged by Christchurch’s status as a Rockefeller resilient city. The ‘build-back-better’ ethos has opened the politicians and city officials to tremendous pressure because of the seeming slowness in rebuild progress. The solution to the fraught nature of building resilience when in crisis is to be working on disaster risk reduction or DRR in ‘peacetime’.

This brings me to a reminder of what these acronyms should really mean. 'DRR', 'DRM' and 'Resilience' are used often, but I think the words have real meaning when expanded out.

DRR means ‘reducing the risk of disaster’.

In other words, looking forward to when disasters are not disasters, but instead events of lesser impact. The idealistic future is one of improved land use planning, engineering, and a well-informed public and private sector that can cope and in fact prosper in the face of adversity.

Similarly, DRM means 'managing the risk of disaster.'

Sendai Resilience Dialogue 400

Expert panel at 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Photo: Hannah Brackley, NHRP

This emphasis on risk was one of the key messages from the Sendai conference. It can be found in the New Zealand position statement, in the ‘New Zealand Inc’ video developed by the advisory group of New Zealand stakeholders supporting MFAT at Sendai and in the ‘Resilience Dialogue’ - a high level panel discussion hosted by the EU, USAID, World Bank/GFDRR and the Government of Japan. In this dialogue the recognition that DRR is truly a public-private partnership shone through with calls for risk informed development going forward. This applies equally to developed, middle-income, and developing countries, and risk identification and management are now key criteria for clients of the World Bank.

The current emphasis in some quarters on societal resilience, important as it is, to the exclusion of other elements of DRR, does not recognise the opportunities for reduction and resilience in other sectors, and tends to ignore the opportunity to pluck the ‘low-hanging fruit’ where many assessments have illustrated a return on the reduction investment dollar of anything between 5- and 100-to-1. The realisation of this investment may not accrue in the term of an elected official, but foresight and strategic thinking is what we expect from our leaders, is it not?

This reflection cannot finish without mention of the perspectives from our Pacific nation neighbours. The tragedy in Vanuatu was unfolding as the Sendai Framework was being negotiated. President Tong of Kiribati eloquently presented his nation’s plight in the event of likely inescapable sea level rise over the next decades that may well require resettlement of his nation to other countries. It reinforces the coupling between natural hazards and climate change impacts, especially for Small Island Developing Nations. New Zealand needs to continue and extend its pro-active role in assistance on this topic. New Zealand has the capacity to offer technical assistance to Pacific neighbours to firstly scope the issues of sustainable development in the face of natural hazards and climate change, and in partnership develop effective risk management options. The recovery from Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu will be the first test for the ambition of the Sendai Framework.

A final word on the need to engage much more with the business sector in developing effective approaches to reducing the risk of disasters.

Already businesses, particularly the large ones, undertake better risk management practices than most of the public sector. And the public sector must acknowledge that it is private enterprise that keeps people in jobs, business thriving and ultimately our towns and cities alive. The insurance industry is at the forefront of this sector, especially in New Zealand with its deep insurance penetration, but the formal arrangements for DRR need to go further to engage with the largest employers and the regional chambers of commerce.

What are the next steps?

Further dialogue (for a short while) is needed to instigate a national conversation and action plan to advance New Zealand as the most pro-active country embracing DRR as a cost-effective and sustainable approach to turning disasters into lesser imapcts, so that the nonsensical expression ‘natural disaster’* disappears from our vocabulary.

- Kelvin Berryman - Director, Natural Hazards Research Platform / Principal Scientist, GNS Science

*Natural Hazards, Unnatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention (2010) (♦ Link). The adjective “UnNatural” in the title of the report conveys the following key message: earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but the unnatural disasters are deaths and damages that result from human acts of omission and commission.

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Kelvin Berryman 100

I have been in Southeast Asia for the past week, firstly in Lao on a consultancy assignment and then in Taiwan as an invited speaker at the 2nd Asian Conference on Urban Disaster Reduction (ACUDR). While in Taiwan I was able to visit one of the areas badly affected by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. I found it interesting to reflect on comparisons with the Response and Recovery phase of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence. There are some similarities and some notable differences:


In Taiwan, reconstruction and resettlement of thousands of displaced persons has been rapid and (unlike Canterbury) insurance settlements have not been a complicating factor.


Typhoon Morakot damage and losses were very large compared to the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence but amounted to less than 2% of Taiwan’s GDP.


In Taiwan, resettlement villages were planned by government without extensive community consultation. There has been some protest from affected populations, especially from ethnic groups who have been resettled out of their traditional areas; however, their protest has been muted. Overall, the public response in Taiwan to natural hazard disaster seems to put community ahead of individual rights. The call in New Zealand for even more community consultation for all environmental and planning decisions, and anguish in regard to private property rights is in sharp contrast to how things are done in Taiwan.


A feature of the Taiwan response and recovery was the integration of all NGO’s under a unified management structure during response and NGO-led resettlement projects. The villages that were constructed by NGO’s appeared to offer more flexibility and more flair in design than the government designs. An interesting feature was supervised DIY construction as an option for the displaced people to engage directly in the rebuilding of their future.

Here are a few links to material that you may find interesting:

  • Tsou et al (2011) Catastrophic landslide induced by Typhoon Morakot, Shiaolin, Taiwan. Geomorphology 127 (3-4), 166-178. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2010.12.013 (Link ♦)

Next year a number of ‘Canterbury Recovery’ conferences are planned. These will be valuable discussions, and offer an almost last chance while memory is fresh, to embed improvements in our Reduction, Readiness, Response, and Recovery planning. Many things worked well in Canterbury but there is also room for improvement. If no actions are implemented after conferences next year then I expect we will repeat the same mistakes when the next natural hazard crisis arises.

Kelvin Berryman - Director, Natural Hazards Research Platform / Principal Scientist, GNS Science

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How will natural hazard shocks impact New Zealand’s economy 20 years from now with an increasingly older population and fewer of us?

Kelvin Berryman 100

I had the good fortune of being at the Insurance Council of New Zealand conference in Auckland on the 5th November. I was particularly struck by the implications laid out by Shamubeel Eaqub and Natalie Jackson on New Zealand’s future demographics and some perspectives on macro-economics as a consequence of this (LINK ♦).

Shamubeel’s presentation included brief analysis of the intersection of demographics and the shock of the global financial crisis, at New Zealand scale. Further discussion during the conference included the affordability of infrastructure in its present form, especially once the demographic challenges really set in. This looms large as a developing national crisis.

Neither Shamubeel’s nor Natalie’s presentations considered the likelihood of natural hazard events as likely future shocks. Could future hazard events be the cliff-edge in terms of the viability of urban centres in New Zealand? Or could such events become the only realistic triggers for urban renewal as cash is injected for rebuilding? Seemingly, with current trends in urban viability, investment following crisis might be the only mechanism for the economic futures of many urban centres.

Now is the time to investigate the intersection between demographics; consider whether growth is realistic or whether we need to plan for ‘smart shrinkage’ (to coin a phrase from Natalie Jackson); develop new approaches for funding and maintaining urban and rural infrastructure; and incorporate natural hazard risk reduction actions to manage future impacts. Without substantive investigation of these matters, and proactive actions, it seems difficult to ensure future economic prosperity for all New Zealanders.

Kelvin Berryman - Director, Natural Hazards Research Platform / Principal Scientist, GNS Science

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Kelvin Berryman 100

An extended Labour weekend that included a return crossing of Cook Strait and the chance to contemplate the mysteries of the landscape in the northern South Island provide the catalyst for this monolo◊gue. It is about ‘what we know and what we don’t know’ as it applies to active faults and earthquake hazard, but it could apply to many aspects of our natural hazard research.

Scientists like facts, but….

We know that our communication as scientists strongly influences the public’s comprehension and preparedness to natural hazards, and this ultimately influences the impact of inevitable future earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami and extreme weather. Scientists like to assemble all the facts before discussing research in the public arena, but what happens if all the facts cannot be found to the scientist’s satisfaction? This delay could limit science communication opportunities.

Give the message some staying power

More and more I am observing that waiting until all the facts have been assembled followed by a carefully scripted communication, often leads to only a brief flurry of media interest, and little long term improvement in preparedness. Scientists need to prepare their advice so that it has some staying power. I believe that updating the public, elected officials, and policy makers on a frequent basis as research is progressing could be effective.

Sometimes not everything is clear cut

While in Marlborough, I was reminded of work done by Russ Van Dissen and myself at least a decade ago, noting that the distance between the Wairau Fault and the Awatere Fault is about twice that of the other Marlborough faults. One explanation is that there is a ‘hidden’ fault – we suspect it’s is there but with little to go on. Other ‘hidden’ faults for which we have some evidence occur near Gisborne, beneath Palmerston North, and near Levin. And until recently, the Aotea fault in Wellington harbour was hidden from view. (LINK ♦)

There will also be times when we will only be "wise with hindsight", such as the Christchurch Fault which gave rise to the 22 February earthquake (LINK ♦). Similarly, the clear alignment of the aftershocks of the 2013 Cook Strait and Lake Grassmere earthquakes suggest reactivation of existing fault or faults with research still underway to reveal those features.

Thus, the vexing question of how many more ‘surprises’ are out there

We can say with confidence that much of New Zealand’s future earthquake activity will lie within a belt extending from the Bay of Plenty and East Cape regions diagonally through the country to Fiordland, as depicted in New Zealand’s National Seismic Hazard Map (right).

National seismic hazard model v3 with caption

NSHM update for 2010 showing peak ground acceleration expected with a 475 year return period on Class C sites. Hazard estimates in units of g.

But outside the high hazard zone (red and yellow shading), damaging events can still occur. Magnitude 6 earthquakes occur on average ten times more frequently than magnitude 7. Science cannot pinpoint where or when these events will occur, so earthquakes always have the potential to surprise, as in Christchurch. So I suggest an important part of the earthquake hazard conversation is to talk openly about the potential for future surprises in a positive and proactive way.

Putting things into perspective

The Aotea Fault was met with great interest that petered out just as quickly. There may have been a missed opportunity to open the discussion on an even greater hazard – the subduction fault. This megafault is the movement zone between the Pacific and Australian Plates that slopes down beneath the eastern North Island and is only 22 km beneath our feet in Wellington (VIDEO LINK ♦). It is a close cousin to features that produced the megaquakes in Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004 or the Tohoku earthquake offshore of Japan in 2011.

The subduction fault is a colossal feature compared with the Aotea Fault. So to give the public a balanced approach we need to bring them along on the scientific journey - what we know or don’t know, what organisations are involved, and how the public can do their part.

Only through frequent and ongoing discussion will there be rational preparedness compared with headlines that have a single day of consciousness, with little or no ensuing action. There are opportunities to engage with Science Media Centre, and the re-emergence of science pages in several of the national newspapers is a welcome opportunity.

Listen in on some of the discussion at the recent Media Disasters and the Public. (LINK ♦)

Kelvin Berryman - Director, Natural Hazards Research Platform / Principal Scientist, GNS Science

Kelvin Berryman 100

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The announcement on 17 October that New Zealand has been elected to the United Nations Security Council for a two year term is a positive signal of New Zealand’s commitment to global affairs.

Our place at the UN, coupled with the 2011 announcement by Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade that Philip Gibson will serve as New Zealand's special envoy for disaster risk management highlights New Zealand’s commitment to global disaster risk reduction ahead of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. (Listen to New Zealand’s Statement at the PrepComm 3rd UN World conference on DRR).

I am very supportive of these recent developments. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon notes that natural hazards, along with armed conflict, pandemic, and food security represent the major challenges for society and require concerted efforts to minimise future impacts (Download UN Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience).

On behalf of the Natural Hazards Research Platform, I am taking part in discussions to form a national consensus on what is needed to make a difference in New Zealand’s disaster risk management. Alongside EQC, MCDEM (now residing within Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet), the Insurance Council of NZ, the National Infrastructure Unit of Treasury, Local Government NZ, and insurers and Deloitte we are all taking part in this national direction.

Having been heavily involved in the response and early stages of recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes, I see these developments as indications that New Zealand really is learning lessons from the events of 2010-11.

Over the past year, there’s been an increased commitment by government to prioritise natural hazards as part of its DRR strategy. There’s been consensus to push through the agreed natural hazard amendments to the Resource Management Act and more local authorities are developing a risk-based underpinning for future land use planning. And on the science front, resilience to natural hazards was recognised as one of the most pressing science challenges for New Zealand in developing the National Science Challenge.

When in Christchurch, I am reminded of the 185 brave souls who lost their lives on 22 February. I believe that our efforts towards a more resilient New Zealand – as covered by Platform and our partners – will provide a lasting legacy in their memory.

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Kelvin Berryman - Director, Natural Hazards Research Platform / Principal Scientist, GNS Science

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