Ulrich Lange, Wikimedia Commons

24/7 geohazards monitoring centre – Expert Q&A

A National Geohazards Monitoring Centre has gone live today and will provide round-the-clock monitoring of earthquakes, tsunami, landslides and volcanic activity.

The process for the centre, which is located at GNS Science in Lower Hutt, was set in motion after the Kaikōura quake in 2016.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the launch. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor Jarg Pettinga, Department of Geological Sciences University of Canterbury, comments:

Do you think this makes NZ better prepared for responding to geohazards?

“Yes, this is an important and timely development. Having a 24/7 Centre to provide rapid information and support a range of emergency response organizations is crucial. The GeoNet monitoring network has been developed over the last 17 or so years and is providing excellent and immediate information for geohazard analysis and response purposes.”

Do you have confidence that this centre will do what it’s supposed to?

“Yes it will, but there will be a period of time during which the centre will need to develop systems and reach full capability. Further monitoring enhancements to the GeoNet system, if realised, will in time increase the overall effectiveness of the service.”

Do you think there are still gaps in the way NZ monitors and informs the public about geohazards (and what are they)? 

“A critical part of the service looking forward will be the rapid analysis and warning with respect to tsunami.  Far-field tsunami will already be well supported by the existing monitoring and advisory service available through the Hawaii Centre augmented by regional coverage. However, near-field events which may impact NZ coastal communities will require further investment in our monitoring network over time.

“Similarly, a real-time early warning system for large earthquakes is currently not established in NZ but this may also be a future opportunity for a significantly enhanced service.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor in Disaster Risk and Resilience Thomas Wilson, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury comments:

Do you think this makes NZ better prepared for responding to geohazards?

“This centre is an important improvement in geohazard monitoring for NZ. Simply put, it will mean there will be ‘eyes on screens’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – which will allow a faster, more responsive and hopefully more effective warning systems for New Zealand. There were a lot of lessons after the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake and tsunami, particularly about delivering faster and more ‘joined up’ warnings. This centre addresses a big part of that lesson, and so this represents a really tangible way that New Zealand has improved its geohazard warnings and broader disaster resilience efforts. I think it will also keep New Zealand in line with leading global technological developments in geohazard monitoring and hopefully meet our community’s appetites for prompt and effective warnings.”

Do you have confidence that this centre will do what it’s supposed to?

“I have high confidence the centre will deliver – there has been a huge amount of planning that has gone into development and staff training at the centre, developing robust standard operating procedures, and working very closely with the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management – who are a key partner in this and undertake warning aspects. There is considerable experience at GNS, which has run GeoNet successfully for many years – supported by EQC, LINZ and MBIE – so this really builds on that previous experience and takes it to the next level. And I know they have been drawing on experience from key partners on how to run such centres, such as the MetService and from similar centres overseas. While I’m sure there will be a few teething issues, as with any new initiative, it is an exciting and positive development for New Zealand.”

Do you think there are still gaps in the way NZ monitors and informs the public about geohazards?

“The capability improvement that the centre brings will continue to bring New Zealand closer to offering near-real time impact-based warnings. For example, rather than just saying a tsunami has occurred and the areas it might effect, a warning is often more effective to also be able to estimate what the likely impacts will be and what people should do. This allows us to better tailor warning messages and mitigation actions for exposed communities.

“There has been a lot of attention on earthquake and tsunami hazards, and rightly so after the events and challenges with those areas. However, we must keep looking at all hazards that New Zealand faces in a balanced way. Volcanic and landslide hazards are also huge risk for New Zealand, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what improvements the new centre and the associated investment in monitoring will bring for these areas.”

Do you think NZ is doing enough to make enough to make ourselves more resilient to disasters?

“It’s always hard to say whether we are doing enough. By global standards we are pretty good in most areas and certainly since the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquake sequences, disaster resilience has certainly been much higher on people’s and decision-makers’ agendas. As a disaster scientist, I think one of the really key things we strive for and have made real progress on is working together collaboratively to try ensure the best possible advice is presented to decision-makers and affected communities. GeoNet and GNS work closely with the science community around New Zealand and internationally to get world class advice.”