Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Project builds resilience in communities preparing for Alpine Fault quake
The scientists, emergency planners and numerous agencies involved in preparing for a future Alpine Fault earthquake have
modelled the impacts of a major earthquake on the Alpine Fault and highlighted the need for emergency agencies to work
across boundaries during a future disaster, University of Otago research reveals.
Project AF8, an initiative funded by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, was established in July
2016 to improve the South Island’s collective response capability to deal with the next magnitude 8 earthquake.
University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Caroline Orchiston is the science leader for the project and in a research paper
published today in the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, outlines the development and outcomes of the project to date.
The most recent initiative is a series of videos, one that Dr Orchiston fronts herself, which explain the Alpine Fault
hazard and offer practical advice to individuals and businesses to help them prepare for such an event. These videos are
The project is based on a scientifically developed scenario that models a magnitude 8 earthquake with a rupture of more
than 400km along the length of the South Island, with up to nine metres of horizontal slip and up to two metres of
vertical motion across the fault.
Having developed the scenario, Project AF8 has recently completed the South Island Alpine Fault Earthquake Response
(SAFER) framework. Based on the first seven days of emergency response, the plan outlines response, coordination,
priority needs and the transition to recovery. It covers such things as the shelter and care of displaced people
including the potential for tens of thousands of tourists, an immediate medical response and the restoration of priority
A Tier 4 national Civil Defence exercise is planned to be held in 2020 to build awareness and resilience and to test the
SAFER framework and national response capability. The research paper outlines this will be a crucial opportunity to test
the SAFER framework across the country, particularly coordinating the response that will be required by Civil Defence
Emergency Management groups in the North Island to support their South Island counterparts.
Project AF8 is led by the six South Island Civil Defence Emergency Management groups and includes all their partner
agencies such as infrastructure utilities, welfare organisations and emergency services.
“As a boundary organisation, Project AF8 has laid the foundation for these relationships, and the trust required across
organisations through stakeholder cocreation so that future major South Island earthquake responses will be better
prepared,” the paper notes.
The potential Alpine Fault scenario needed to be developed and delivered within three months of project initiation,
requiring the consensus of 30 participating scientists. However, using a scenario approach ameliorated these issues by
framing the scenario report as a “scientifically informed estimate” and a “living document”, allowing updates and
iterations to be included as they became available, the research paper states.
Thanks to decades of prior research activity, the available scientific knowledge was sufficient to develop a timely and
credible consensus understanding of the fundamental earthquake geology, seismology and geomorphic hazard science
relating to the Alpine Fault. Providing a scenario was possible with little additional research effort, which was
completed by Dr Orchiston in October 2016.
Rupture of the Alpine Fault is expected to cause strong shaking across the South Island for at least three minutes and
would be widely felt across all New Zealand. The highest shaking intensity is concentrated along the fault with the most
severely impacted regions likely to be the West Coast, inland Otago, Fiordland, inland and low-lying coastal parts of
Canterbury and the southern parts of Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough.
Anticipating the landscape impacts of the event is difficult and the scientists acknowledge the actual event could be
very different from the scenario, therefore planning cannot be location-specific, but generic and formulate in terms of
capability development and adaptability.
Workshops have been held in various areas to discuss the severe disruption that would occur throughout the South Island
in the event of the quake. In the West Coast, the focus has been on meeting local needs, evacuating those most in need
and getting support to worst affected communities. While further north in Nelson-Tasman and Marlborough workshops have
focused on preparing to receive displaced people from the more severely affected areas and acting as starting areas for
resources into and out of the West Coast, while also meeting local needs.