Learning from Earthquakes: Returning to New Zealand

4 Dec

Learning from Earthquakes: Returning to New Zealand

Learning from Earthquakes: Returning to New Zealand to observe long-term recovery efforts after the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence and 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake

By Christine Z. Beyzaei, Ph.D., P.E.

Post-earthquake reconnaissance typically, and by necessity, focuses on documenting observations immediately following an earthquake. Subsequent efforts may involve follow-up visits to the affected area, but these are often performed as part of individual research projects investigating specific observations from the event and may be focused primarily within a specific discipline (e.g., geotechnical, structural, social sciences). Documenting the long-term recovery process represents a unique opportunity to learn not only from the impacts of the event itself, but also from the response and recovery of an entire affected community. That is after all the ultimate goal in pursuing reconnaissance and research – to enable communities that can better withstand an earthquake event and recover quickly when one does occur.

The EERI Learning from Earthquakes (LFE) Travel Study Program provides the opportunity for young professionals to visit areas previously impacted by earthquakes and observe the long-term recovery efforts and resiliency measures implemented in the years following the earthquake event. The 2019 LFE Travel Study program brought a group of 25 young professionals to New Zealand, to observe recovery following the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence and the 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake. The program was co-hosted by EERI and QuakeCoRe (a NZ Crown Research Institute), with participants from around the world comprising a diverse, multidisciplinary group. At the outset, participants were sorted into sub-groups representing components of community: Built Environment, Natural Environment, and Social/Economic Environment. Our goal was to consider our observations in the context of these community components, thinking beyond our technical disciplines to broader, interdisciplinary, and community-oriented applications.

Figure 1. 2019 LFE Travel Study Program participants and organizers (Image source: Laura Whitehurst, Holmes Consulting).


Figure 2. Modified from “Integrated & Holistic Recovery”, Focus on Recovery: A Holistic Framework for Recovery in New Zealand (Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management 2005).

The program began in the South Island, in Christchurch and Kaikoura, and continued throughout the Canterbury and Marlborough regions. We visited damage sites yet to be repaired and rebuild sites demonstrating innovation and a community dedication to building back better. We met with engineers, government officials, emergency responders, business owners, health care professionals, and others, all of whom shared their time and experiences to transfer knowledge on what they’d learned in the 8-9 years following the Canterbury earthquake sequence, and the three years following the Kaikoura earthquake. We ended the program in Wellington, focusing on recovery following the Kaikoura event and preparedness for future events. A common theme throughout the program was that for community recovery to truly take effect, multiple sectors must work together and there must be clear and open communication with the community throughout the process.

Figure 3. Overview map showing locations of Christchurch, Kaikoura, and Wellington. Inset shows country of New Zealand (Image source: Google Earth).

At the completion of the program, each group prepared a report summarizing our observations (URL). Highlights from the program are presented in the figures below.

Figure 4. Red Zone to Green Space: Severe liquefaction and lateral spreading along the Avon River in Christchurch caused pervasive damage throughout the adjacent neighborhoods, resulting in the area being designated as the “Red Zone.” Homes throughout the Red Zone have since been demolished, leaving open green space. The future use of this area is still under debate, with potential plans including permanent designation as a recreational green space. Base map source: Land Information New Zealand – Canterbury Maps (https://www.linz.govt.nz/crown-property/types-crown-property/christchurch-residential-red-zone/residential-red-zone-areas). Inset photo source: Christine Beyzaei, from 2014, taken in the eastern Red Zone neighborhood of Bexley.

Embracing the concept of “building back better,” repair and construction efforts at Ohau Point have worked to incorporate considerations of both the natural environment and tourism needs. This includes construction of a sea wall with a seal passageway, a new pullover and lookout area with parking, and improved rockfall protection along the coast. Photos taken by author.

Figure 5. Structural systems: seismic repair and retrofit at the University of Canterbury campus in Christchurch. Viscous dampers installed above office space. Tour led by Didier Pettinga (Holmes Consulting). Photos taken by author.
Figure 6. Landslide dam formed in 2016 Kaikoura earthquake (known as the “Leader Dam”). Photos and lidar scanning from 2019 field exercise led by Michael Olson (Oregon State University). Equipment provided by the NHERI RAPID Facility. Observation and documentation have been ongoing since the 2016 post-earthquake reconnaissance. Photos taken by author, lidar imaging provided by Michael Olson
Figure 7. Fault scarp along the Leader Fault generated by rupture during the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Photo taken in May 2019 during Kaikoura Earthquake Ruptures fault walk led by Tabitha Bushell (University of Canterbury). Vertical offset of 3 meters measured during 2016 post-earthquake reconnaissance. The Kaikoura earthquake resulted from complex ruptures across multiple faults. There are ongoing research efforts to map and characterize the faults involved in the event. Photo taken by author.
Figure 8. Kaikoura Recovery: The 2016 Kaikoura earthquake underscored that the natural environment and the tourism industry are vital to the city of Kaikoura and the well-being of the community. Damage along the coast isolated communities and exposed vulnerabilities in existing infrastructure systems. Embracing the concept of “building back better,” repair and construction efforts at Ohau Point have worked to incorporate considerations of both the natural environment and tourism needs. This includes construction of a sea wall with a seal passageway, a new pullover and lookout area with parking, and improved rockfall protection along the coast. Photos taken by author.

It was an exceptional experience to work with such a diverse group and learn from others’ perspectives and experiences. On a personal note, the 2019 program also marked 5 years since my initial visit to New Zealand in 2014 for my doctoral research. In 2014 and 2016 I worked in Christchurch at the University of Canterbury, investigating observations from the Canterbury earthquake sequence and during that time saw the recovery as it unfolded. Returning with the LFE program gave me a greater appreciation for the aspects beyond geotechnical engineering, and the opportunity to see how it all fits together. A sincere thanks to EERI, QuakeCoRE, and the people who generously shared their time and their communities.

Christine Z. Beyzaei is a Senior Engineer in the Civil Engineering Practice at Exponent in Oakland, where she specializes in geotechnical engineering. Christine holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.S. from George Washington University.
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