Lessons will build resilience: academic

Caroline Orchiston
Caroline Orchiston
Lessons learned from the Rangitata River bridge closures and tourist stranding at Franz Josef will strengthen resilience against future natural disasters, Caroline Orchiston says.

Dr Orchiston is deputy director of the University of Otago Centre for Sustainability and has an Otago PhD on disaster resilience after a major earthquake on the Alpine Fault.

She recently said tourism was "crucial to our economy".

When tourists were caught up in disasters, it was important there was a quick and efficient response, so "not to damage the image of the country", she said.

"New Zealand is a First World country and we need to have a First World response to these sort of events," she said.

Earlier preparations for a South Island-wide response to a major Alpine Fault earthquake had also helped to prepare better for recent extreme weather events.

And studying such weather events would also also help with quake preparations.

The recent extreme weather event "has produced regional impacts that are not dissimilar to what is expected following a future major earthquake", she said.

Similarities included landslips across the highway network, bridge damage and communication and transport disruptions, including supply chain disruptions, such as food deliveries.

"Tourist strandings and community isolation will be widespread after a future major earthquake on the Alpine Fault.

"We are also very interested about the impacts on primary industries, both direct effects to farms and the knock-on effects through supply chains.

"It is important that we capture the impacts and consequences of an event like this to help us build resilience for future disruptive events."

A small team of Resilience to Nature’s Challenges researchers from Otago, Canterbury and Auckland Universities, with contributions from Niwa and GNS, would soon study the impacts of the recent extreme weather.

Some field work could be undertaken, but researchers knew this had been "a very stressful time for affected communities", including those at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef.

"Events like this help us build resilience by understanding what impacts have occurred, what strategies and measures helped reduced the impacts and lessons for how to manage future events," she said.

Dr Orchiston is also the science lead of the AF8 (Alpine Fault Magnitude 8) project.

This collaborative effort began in 2016 and aims to save lives by planning and preparing a co-ordinated response across the South Island after a severe earthquake on the Alpine Fault.

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