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.
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.
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.
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.