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Tsunami risk: do we learn our way forward, or repeat the mistakes of the past?

Disasters Risk Disaster communication New Zealand

New Zealand has just had a ‘near miss’ with tsunami risk – for the second time in the last three months. An earlier NZIER Insight (no. 63) covered how a tsunami warning was issued 1 hour 20 minutes after the earthquake centred offshore from Te Aroha on Friday 2 September. This warning was issued 1 hour 5 minutes after the arrival of the first wave. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck just after midnight on Monday 14 November again showed the shortcomings of our system for managing tsunami disaster risk. Sirens in places like New Brighton were activated 2 hours after the earthquake, while in Napier they were never used at all as, according to the CEO of Napier City Council, that “would have caused mass panic and evacuation”. 

This Insight, which updates an earlier Insight (no. 63), reinforces the message that we need to learn from these events so that major but infrequent risks can be mitigated.

We need an independent expert review so that we can take an evidence-based approach to learning from near misses. The Minister has signalled an overhaul of the ‘command and control’ structure but this review needs to look across the whole system.

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