Student Profile: Mat Darling



Modelling transient population exposure to disaster risk





A bit about me 


I proudly hail from Otago, where my family grows fruit just outside of Cromwell. I completed an undergraduate BSc in Geology and Geography at the University of Otago in 2013. While studying, I helped NZ Red Cross out a bit through training and leading a youth emergency preparedness program. I also held roles in disaster response, youth governance and was eventually elected onto their National Board in 2012, a position I held until last year.

Following completion of my degree, I went and worked for a couple of different engineering consultancies mainly in geospatial and environmental management roles. After five years of this, I decided to return part-time and complete a Master of Disaster Risk and Resilience (MDRR) here at the University of Canterbury. I saw the field of disaster risk reduction as a nice union of my technical skills, my growing governance ability, and some of the important work Red Cross was doing following the Kaikōura and Christchurch earthquakes.

Following the completion of my MDRR I decided to move to a PhD program full time. When I am not at university you can either find me working part-time for Pattle Delamore Partners leading their Christchurch geospatial work group or volunteering with a local club skifield.


My project

My research project is tackling a significant challenge faced by New Zealand; that is understanding the exposure of our ‘transient’ visitors to disaster risk as they travel around the country. Significant decisions are often made by government stakeholders to reduce this exposure. However, we have very limited models available to understand how visitors move through New Zealand in time and space. I am aiming to build on and improve these models using big data and geospatial modelling.

This project has come as a direct outcome of the work undertaken by Project AF8, which recognised that the next step in improving New Zealand’s disaster risk modelling was to develop more dynamic ways to assess population exposure to disaster risk.  My project aims to develop new, novel indicators to build a model which better characterises transient population movements in time and space.

Further disaster risk assessments will be undertaken using this model at two scales; South Island-wide, and then a high-risk case study area (i.e. Queenstown). Given the relationship between visitor flows, infrastructure demand and likely impact on rural communities, this project has cross-cutting objectives which fit within both the Resilience Challenge’s Rural and Infrastructure research programmes.


Next steps


My PhD research is just kicking off. The initial phases I have been working on include undertaking a systematic literature review of how transient populations are included in disaster risk modelling internationally, and understanding how decision makers are currently using big data sources to understand visitor population exposure to disaster risk. Through using both of these and collaborating with stakeholders, I am working to understand the scale and accuracy of information needed to make informed decisions.

We have also been working with proof of concept geospatial modelling, applying data sources such as infrastructure load and social media to understand how well various sources characterise populations.

Critical to the success of this project is the close collaboration with stakeholders, be it decision makers or data providers. I have really enjoyed working closely with stakeholder groups in these initial stages as we collectively realise the potential of this project.



Student profile: Safa Al-sachit



West Coast Resilience Project




A bit about me


I was born and raised in Iraq with three other siblings. My father is an electrical engineer and his passion for what he is doing had a great impact on me. This made me think seriously about following the same path. Great support from my family and lots of hard work culminated with me getting a BSc degree in electrical engineering with honors. As a result of this success I was awarded a scholarship to finish my master’s degree at Cardiff University in the UK.

My passion for improving the power network led me to passing with distinction and being awarded the Npower Energy challenge award for the best master’s project in Electrical Energy Systems. These fruitful gains led me finally to New Zealand where I got a scholarship from The University of Auckland to finish my Ph.D. in developing a new protection algorithm to improve the reliability of the power system. Between graduating from university and coming to New Zealand, I worked for seven years in the industry and two other years in teaching.

During my first year at The University of Auckland I participated in many conferences as a researcher or as an organizing committee member. The most prominent of these was the industrial conference EEA2018, where I received the best paper award for introducing an innovative method to protect power transmission lines. I was also on the organizing committee for AUPEC 2018, the top conference in power engineering in Australia, South East Asia and New Zealand. 


My project


As electricity has become an inseparable part of everyday life, it has become necessary to highlight the importance of improving the performance of New Zealand’s power grid. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes have severely impacted our electricity supply in recent years. These power outages can last for days or even months after an event, as happened in the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquake where part of the grid’s utilities was damaged.  

My Ph.D. research focuses on building a new protection algorithm that will protect the power system transmission lines, particularly under the high penetration of renewable energy resources. I’m part of Associated Professor Nirmal Nair’s team, who are responsible for improving the resilience of New Zealand’s power networks. The team’s work was highlighted in this recent news story. Because of my background, Assoc Prof Nair involved me in the West Coast Resilience Project to help with planning for a reliable microgrid. A microgrid is a small power network with small capacity generators that can supply a specific area with power independently from the main power network. These microgrids rely mostly on renewable resources, and are useful during a disaster when the main power network is compromised. A major disaster like the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquake can cause damage to the main grid’s facilities, meaning that distribution substations can’t be provided with power. This can result in big parts of the city being isolated without power. The location of the microgrid’s generators has been carefully planned based on geological studies offered by the civil engineering group in the project. My contribution to the project is to find answers to the following questions:

  • How reliable is the existing protection scheme in detecting faults and isolating them from the healthy parts of the grid?
  • What are the constraints that prevent these protection devices from operating properly?
  • What changes are required to ensure proper operation? 




Next steps


I am currently working on generating a test for the protection scheme of the islanded network. I want to understand how the protection relays communicate with each other under different islanded scenarios. I’m using the real-time simulator OPAL-RT, and Omicron to get a realistic result which will help me understand what protection relays need to operate accurately. This is closely tied to my work developing the new protection algorithm which provides a reliable protection scheme and hence resilient network.

I am excited about the outcome of this research, as it has the potential to have a great impact on keeping New Zealand’s power network stable, reliable and secure in the long term. It is especially relevant with our move to a low carbon future network, due to New Zealand being so dependent on renewable energy resources. I am looking forward to working with other researchers to develop an energy-communication system in New Zealand that is resilient following large-scale natural disasters, and to extend those learnings to other electricity networks.

The rural impact of natural hazards



By Tyler Barton



The 2010 / 2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence had devastating consequences for urban centres such as Christchurch. Rural regions were also strongly impacted by the earthquakes, although in very different ways.

PhD candidate Tyler Barton is looking at the impacts caused by natural hazards in rural areas and how these affect individuals, businesses, and communities. He has been speaking with rural stakeholders in order to find out and document disaster impacts (and implications) specific to the rural context, and highlight the unique and very specific needs of rural populations and agribusinesses following a natural hazard. These rural needs cannot be assumed but rather must be identified by all rural actors (including communities) who are involved in the rural disaster resilience context.


Tyler Barton, PhD candidate at the University of Canterbury 


He uses experiences and insights gained from rural residents and emergency managers following the November 2016 North Canterbury earthquake as an example of how co-seismic and multi-dimensional hazards affect rural businesses and communities.

Tyler’s research explores how the compounding effects of North Canterbury’s pre-existing multi-year drought coupled with the 2016 Mw7.8 earthquake severely impacted the livelihoods of farmers and rural residents.

Rural livelihoods rely on successfully completing daily tasks, such as feeding livestock or providing water to crops. These, in turn, rely on the availability of natural resources (such as aquifers) and access to critical infrastructure (such as roads and power). The drought had created a resource-poor environment, while the co-seismic landslides resulted in roadblocks that prevented farmers from obtaining the basic requirements for a farm, such as water for crop irrigation and/or animal welfare needs.

Current disaster response practices are fundamentally based on urban models, and are not fit for purpose in the rural context. As a result, the critical importance of addressing these rural needs in a timely manner was not immediately recognized by emergency managers following the earthquake.

Tyler’s research argues the critical importance of ensuring that rural needs, priorities, and perspectives are considered in future rural disaster responses, as well as included in official disaster risk reduction efforts at all levels.


Castle Hill Station in rural Canterbury



The 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence: a legacy of research collaboration



By Dr Matthew Hughes and Dr Liam Wotherspoon

This year February 22nd marks the eighth anniversary of the devastating 6.2 magnitude Christchurch Earthquake, which occurred at 12.51 p.m. in a busy lunch hour. What we now call the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence had begun nearly six months earlier, in the early hours of 4th September 2010, when the region was rocked by the 7.1 magnitude Darfield Earthquake. While no fatalities occurred during this initiating event, the damage to land and the built environment was a foretaste of the impacts to come throughout 2011.


Damage to the railway line in Christchurch after the 201 Darfield Earthquake. Photo © GNS Science

One of the enduring legacies of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence is strong relationships between Resilience to Nature’s Challenges researchers and a range of stakeholder organisations. These collaborations are examples of successful co-created research projects that have both academic and practical value. 

The February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake set in motion a mammoth campaign of infrastructure repairs and assessments undertaken by utilities operators. In parallel to this campaign, multi-faceted research programmes began, forging  collaborations between utility operators, consulting firms, universities and Crown Research Institutes, all of whom worked together closely to understand earthquake impacts to vital infrastructure lifelines.

Severe liquefaction across Christchurch led to significant damage to a range of buried infrastructure networks, including the water supply pipe network and electricity cables. Following each significant earthquake, Christchurch City Council recorded damage to the water supply network, and Orion recorded damage to the electricity distribution. The collation of these authoritative damage datasets, compiled from inspections and repair records, has enabled researcher and stakeholder collaborations to figure out why the damage occurred, and to work towards a better understanding of future network performance.

For example, the precise locations of network damage, their specific modes of failure, and the pipe or cable types on which they occurred, have been linked to the severity of ground shaking and liquefaction at those sites. Now this research is being used to develop models that can estimate damage, being able to both represent the observed damage in past events, and assess how much damage future events might cause. The research has stimulated thinking behind more resilient design, including informing design standards and asset management approaches.


Model output of the estimated probability of water outage for the Christchurch earthquake. Source: Earthquake Spectra: The Professional Journal of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

Irmana Garcia Sampedro is a Strategic Asset Engineer at the Christchurch City Council, and was formerly a member of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, an alliance of utility owners and consulting firms tasked with rebuilding Christchurch’s water and road infrastructure.

She says: “As a reticulation asset manager, since 2014 I have been heavily involved in several research projects including investigating damage to, and loss of grade of, Christchurch’s wastewater pipe network. This work has shifted to deeper analysis comparing pre- and post-earthquake waste water condition assessments, and linking these observations with geospatial models of ground deformation. These projects have provided to industry a good understanding of the damage.”

“Moving into the ‘preparedness’ space, in 2017 I was involved with very interesting research on a decision-support algorithm for post-earthquake water services recovery. And in 2018, a researcher and I documented lessons learned for assessing earthquake impacts to buried assets, including best approaches for data systems and management. This work was awarded paper of the year by the New Zealand arm of the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia, showing how the engineering and emergency management industries found high value in these collected lessons learnt.”

Orion is Christchurch’s primary electricity distributor, and due to asset strengthening prior to the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, the networks demonstrated resilience to earthquake shaking and liquefaction. This enabled rapid restoration of service across the city. Never the less damage did occur, providing valuable lessons on impacts to electricity systems.

Shane Watson is Orion’s Network Strategy and Transformation Manager. He says: “Orion has worked with researchers to analyse the effects of the 2011 earthquakes on its underground infrastructure. The accurate characterising of cable damage, associated with geospatial modelling, delivers enhanced spatial views that allow us to better understand, assess risk and better plan for the future replacement and development of the electricity network. The continued development of spatial models has led us to further collaborate, and develop further modelling to allow for multi-hazard and system resilience assessments.”

It is often said that crises present opportunities. While Christchurch’s built environment and infrastructure lifelines were severely tested, close collaborations between Resilience Challenge researchers and key stakeholders have helped enhance our understanding of disaster impacts, and will continue to inform resilience across Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Student profile: David Wither



Social Resilience in the Hurunui: Outcomes of Institutional Support after Adverse Events



A bit about me 


I spent the first five years of my life in Dunedin, the second five years in India and the next eight in Wanaka. The different cultures I grew up in galvanised my interest in people and led to me studying sociology as an undergrad at the University of Otago. After graduating, I spent the next 4 years working at the Social Research Centre in Melbourne. As a part of this job I was involved in many different government and university research projects, where I spoke with a wide variety of people. During my time there I became very interested in the systems we create for ourselves, and how they impact on people. I returned to Dunedin to do honours, after which I ended up in this programme. 


My project


Within the challenge, my project is seen as a bridge between the rural and cultural teams. The brief of my scholarship was to integrate within both teams and investigate social and community resilience to natural hazards in rural North Canterbury. North Canterbury has experienced many adverse events over the last decade. Most notably, the region was peripherally impacted by the Canterbury Earthquakes. Following this there was a major drought lasting approx. 4 years, at the apex of which the Hurunui-Kaikoura earthquake struck. And during the aftermath of the earthquake, the true extent of the M. Bovis outbreak also became apparent.

Given the experiences faced by people in North Canterbury, and my interest in the systems we create for ourselves, and how they impact on people, I decided that I wanted to understand how the government had responded to these adverse events, and how that response impacted the people. I wanted to get multiple perspectives on this issue from all of the people involved, from those who enacted the response, to those who experienced it. As such, broadly, I am speaking to three different groups of people – 1) Local farm households in the Hurunui, 2) Local and Regional government/organisations 3) National government and organisations.


View over Cathedral Gully at Gore Bay


Next steps


I am currently finishing up my fieldwork. I have captured all the local and regional data, and am about to head off to collect national level data. Once this is done, I’ll be doing analysis and writing it all up – the final stage of a PhD.

Ultimately, the goal of this PhD is to gain a much better understanding of the human dimensions of disaster resilience. Previously a lot of attention has been paid to the business,  infrastructure and economic side of things, yet common to all these are people. In this vein, this research attempts to integrate with the recent focus on wellbeing by the government. We need a better understanding of how people react in disasters, in order to create better systems for managing the response and recovery. These factors can be complex as, for example, much was learnt in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, yet not all of these lessons applied to the Hurunui-Kaikoura earthquake, as the way rural and urban communities react to adverse events can be extremely different.


Q & A with Dr Caroline Orchiston



Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science!

Thank you. How amazing that we live in a time when women are making such an incredible contribution to science in our country. We have some incredible role models to inspire us, e.g. Chief Scientist Juliet Gerrard, and of course our own Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who are breaking down barriers and stereotypes as successful working mothers with children and fabulous careers. I have three children and a really satisfying job, and I’m happy to be able to show them that it is possible to do great things in your work AND home life.

So tell us about your work life, when did you realise you wanted to be a scientist? 

I’ve always loved landscapes and I wanted to know more about how and why landforms came to be. I travelled overseas during my final year of high school, and I was given a geology text for my birthday that year – it is funny to think in retrospect, but getting that book really inspired me to become a geologist – so once I’d returned from my gap year I headed straight into a Geology degree at the University of Otago. The absolute highlight of my degree was our third year field school to the West Coast, where my passion for the Alpine Fault was born!

Did you like your science classes in high school?

I really enjoyed science at high school, particularly physical geography. I had a wonderful teacher who inspired me, and she must have seen something in me because years later (like, 18!) she sent a card to congratulate me on getting my PhD! I was so touched by that – and it just reinforced for me the absolutely critical role of teachers in inspiring our young people to do the best they can in life.

What did you study at university?

I completed a first class honours degree in Geology, and then a Master’s in Tourism – I know, what a strange combination! After I finished my first degree I worked in the mining industry for five years, and during that time I realised I wanted to continue my academic endeavours. I dreamed of doing a PhD on the Alpine Fault from an interdisciplinary perspective. But in order to move into a social science discipline I needed to do a Master’s first, hence the study of environmental management in the marine tourism industry in New Zealand. Then I launched straight into the PhD after my first child was born in 2005. 


Caroline standing right on the Alpine Fault at Gaunt Creek

Have you ever felt like the odd one out because you’re a woman?

When I was doing my undergrad the class had a 1:3 female:male gender split. Since then it has improved a lot. I didn’t really feel like the odd one out in my class, but I did notice the lack of female teaching staff (and hence, role models). The mining industry was certainly a very male-dominated environment, and for quite some time I was the only woman working in the mine itself. That was a very interesting challenge, and one that I’m glad I experienced because it taught me a lot about life and how to work alongside people with different ideas and ways of being.



Presenting at the South Island Civil Defence Conference in 2018


Your PhD thesis investigated tourism in places with high earthquake risk, what drew you to that subject?

As I mentioned earlier, the life-changing moment for me was visiting the Southern Alps on our 3rd  year Geology field trip. I was just blown away by the potential of this plate boundary fault, and the power of the landscape around the Alps. I did my Honours dissertation on the Mahitahi area of South Westland, and as I did my field work I used to watch the Maui vans pottering up and down the  highway and wonder if those tourists had any idea about the Alpine Fault and what they would do if it unleashed a big quake. Even in the early 1990s we knew a lot about the behaviour of the Alpine Fault in terms of the approx. 300 year return period for big earthquakes, but what I was concerned about was the lack of societal awareness and preparedness for the next event.  That stuck with me as I went through the next ten years, and so once I decided to do a PhD on the topic, the rest followed.

Have you ever had pushback from the tourism sector for your work? 

Speaking at a public lecture in Blenheim on the Alpine Fault


Over the years I’ve talked with many people about tourism and disaster preparedness, and there was a sense from some of them that if we talk openly about the Alpine Fault, it might not be good for business, because it may scare some tourists off. I don’t buy into that, and I think opinions have changed in the industry – we are far better off having good response plans within the tourism sector so we can expedite recovery and protect our international reputation post-disaster.

You’ve also looked at disaster preparedness in Washington State, USA – how does their preparedness compare with ours here in NZ?

We’re working with communities in coastal Washington who are highly exposed to a future Cascadia subduction (approx. magnitude 9) and associated tsunami. Since I became involved in the work in 2009, we have seen the development of one community-funded vertical evacuation structure, and there are two more in the pipeline – these are the first of their kind in North America. Certainly there is more that can be done in terms of community preparedness, but I believe there is a growing awareness both in NZ and Washington that we will need to look after ourselves for much longer than three days after a major disaster.

Now you spearhead Project AF8, can you tell us a bit about that?

Project AF8 is in its third year and is a partnership between Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) and the Alpine Fault science community, funded by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management and the Resilience Challenge’s Rural Lab. The purpose of AF8 early on was to develop a coordinated response plan for a magnitude 8 earthquake for the first seven days, which was delivered in 2018 and is known as the SAFER Framework (South Island Alpine Fault earthquake response). In our third year we are dedicating ourselves to increasing our outreach and engagement by running the AF8 Roadshow ‘The Science Beneath our Feet’, which will take Alpine Fault science to secondary school students around the Southern Alps. We are also building up to the 2020 National Alpine Fault exercise, which requires a lot of planning and further science input.

What are your aspirations for the future?

Personally I would like to keep contributing to our hazards and disaster risk reduction research in New Zealand by continuing to work with fantastic colleagues in research and practice. I’d like AF8 to continue to act as the interface between science and emergency management, and to keep on building our readiness for the next big earthquake in the South Island.

Student profile: Niransha Rodrigo



‘Anchor projects’ as cornerstones of city-rebuilding post-disaster




A bit about me 


I’m from Sri Lanka, the island paradise of the Indian Ocean. I’m currently a second year Civil Engineering doctoral candidate at The University of Auckland. I initially completed my BA (Honours) in Economics at the University of Colombo whilst also reading for a Professional Post-Graduate qualification in Marketing. I then went to the UK where I did an MSc in Project Management and that led me to my current research in New Zealand in the area of disaster management. I’ve specialised in vastly different subject areas and I strongly believe that this sets me apart from the typical engineer. I believe knowledge in many areas is an added bonus when working in teams because knowing more gives one more control over the process.



Even though my research focuses on disaster management, there is a huge part of me that loves art, languages and creativity in any form. As a result, I learnt French and then at one point started giving lessons too!  I’m also totally into nature these days. I have fallen for the natural beauty of New Zealand and it has brought out the photographer, voyager and nature lover in me.


My project


A disaster marks a remarkable turn-around for a country, whether it is economic, social, political or a fusion of all three. Therefore, it is crucial that governments make the best decisions with regard to their post-disaster rebuilding. In the recent past, the world has witnessed cities being rebuilt through key public projects. These are also known as Anchor projects, Priority Projects, Catalyst Projects or Flagship projects. The main objective of these projects is to aid the rebuilding of cities post-disaster. Substantial investment, resources and time are dedicated to these. It is expected that these projects are pioneers in economic regeneration and are focal points in the urban plan following a disaster.

My work is mainly focused on understanding these key public projects that have been undertaken by governments in the developed world following large natural disasters. I’m using the case studies of the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes and Australia’s 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. In Christchurch only a handful of projects out of the proposed 17 have been completed 9 years down the line (see the map of proposed Christchurch Anchor Projects below).


Christchurch ‘Anchor’ Projects. Source: Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, 2012

In Australia, although the projects were completed on time, whether they have delivered what was expected remains to be seen. Planning, decision-making, resource management and project portfolio management may have contributed to the negativity surrounding them.


Next steps


I will start my first phase of data collection in March, 2019. This will involve conducting one on one semi-structured interviews with government officials in both Victoria and Canterbury. I hope to gain an understanding of the planning process and the project management issues. The data gathered will be validated against findings from focus group discussions involving all stakeholders, including government officials, architects, contractors and the end users of these establishments. This phase will shed light on how planning and project management affect the end results of these projects. It is expected that my research will deepen the understanding of the role of anchor projects in post-disaster rebuilding efforts of the government. I will also produce best practice decision-making guidelines for future reference of the respective governments.

I am excited about the potential of this research as one of the few studies focusing on  the role of public projects following a natural disaster. I also hope that the decision-making guidelines I produce will help governments make better decisions around post-disaster planning and government spending.


Niransha’s PhD is being supervised by Professor Suzanne Wilkinson and Dr Sandeeka Mannakkara and is being partially funded by the Resilience Challenge.

Being part of Generation Zero



Lisa McLaren

Resilience Challenge PhD candidate by day, climate change hero by night.

We speak with Lisa McLaren who, when not researching citizen science and community resilience to hazard events, is a convener and spokesperson for Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation helping New Zealand cut carbon pollution.



What sparked your interest in climate change policy and research?

Growing up on a farm I felt that the connection between weather and our environment was really clear. It was only in my last stages of my undergraduate degrees that I started to pay attention to the growing noise around how climate change was effecting our environment.

I studied at Victoria University of Wellington – completing a BSc in Environmental Studies, BA in Anthropology, and a Masters in Environmental Studies with a thesis on climate change education. I started to learn the academic side of climate change science and policy through these degrees.

I attended two major UN climate change conferences – COP19 in Poland (2013) and COP21 in Paris (2015). COP 19 was the place I learnt I really wanted to do something to help solve the climate crisis, and COP21 was the place where I learnt how to do this.

I came home from Paris and felt the need to put my newly found climate campaigning skills to good use. I had to do it voluntarily as there were hardly any jobs related to climate change action at that time. Instead, I worked for four years in local government with roles in sea level rise planning and emergency management. I spent a lot of time working with community groups on how to build their resilience to natural hazard events, including those that will be exacerbated by climate change in the future. I gave up my paid local government role to work full time on my PhD and my volunteer role as the National Convenor of the Zero Carbon Act campaign with Generation Zero.


Tell us about Gen Zero and your role in the team

Gen Zero is basically a group of passionate young people (or young at heart!) who volunteer their time to work on creative, positive solutions to climate change through transport and city design, education, and our proposed new climate change law – the Zero Carbon Act.

I have volunteered as the National Convenor of the Zero Carbon Act campaign for the last 2.5 years. I coordinate a team of 10 core volunteers, and a wider pool of around 100 people.

The campaign for a Zero Carbon Act started in a cafe in Wellington in early 2016. Gen Zero had done some research prior into what the UK’s climate law looked like and that day in the cafe we decided as a group that we might as well try to create one here too. We launched our intent to draft a new climate law outside Parliament in June 2016 and by the end of 2016 we had formed a policy team who had begun drafting our blueprint for what we were then calling a ‘Zero Carbon Act’. We created a policy reference group made up of policy experts, lawyers, academics, who could guide our policy team on their journey. Our proposed law was similar to the UKs Climate Change Act in many ways, but it had to be tailored for the Aotearoa New Zealand context. While our policy team was getting the technical details right, our campaign team focused on socialising the new proposed law with anyone that would listen. We did presentations up and down the country, wrote Opeds and blogs, and formed a group of allied NGOs who could share our idea with their networks. Our blueprint was launched in April 2017 outside Parliament once again – this time we had an extensive list of supporting groups and individuals, including support from youth political parties from all sides of the house.

We were amazed when the Green Party announced that they would establish a Zero Carbon Act if they got into government, and even more amazed when the Labour Party and NZ First signaled similar promises. The new coalition government then consulted on the proposed new law in mid-2018. There were 15,000 submissions on that consultation – this was huge success considering it is common to receive around 500 submissions for proposed legislation. As a group we have been training our volunteers to have meetings with their local MPs to discuss how climate change impacts them, their whanau and wider community.

Our campaign has now changed – we no longer have a say on the outcome of the draft law and the name will probably change.  The government and opposition are currently still in talks about what this law should look like and we will hopefully know the outcome of their negotiations early this year. This loss of power over our proposed law is exactly what we wanted to happen when we started the campaign. We needed it to be taken up by the politicians who can bring it to life. But it has taken us a while to feel ok with giving up control over something we have all worked so tirelessly to create.

This next stage gives us an opportunity to critique the bill when it is drafted early next year and as a team we are aiming to broaden our campaign scope, from selling a climate law to developing a vision. We want to go around the country in the new year and see what New Zealanders from all walks of life want our low emissions 2050 Aotearoa to look like.



Why do people get involved?

There are multiple different reasons, often quite specific. We talk about our ‘climate story of self’ a lot. This is based on the climate change journey people have been on, and usually includes an ‘aha!’ moment where they decide to put lots of time and energy into solving the problem.

Mine is based on how the storms, floods, and droughts that hit my home region are going to made worse by climate change in the next few years. And that’s going to keep hurting my home community in the Wairarapa. I want to make sure all our rural communities are set up to succeed during this transition to a low emission economy and I am glad to see these discussions have already begun. But I also want the rural community to realise that they have many parts to play in the much needed plan to reduce our countries greenhouse gas levels. And I hope they come to the table with innovation and creativity, rather than resentment and narrow-mindedness that we have seen from many to date. The same goes for those in the urban areas who will need to tackle low emissions transport and housing. This journey is going to need all kiwis to be a part of it and will require change in all sectors and all communities.

My worry is that we are not talking about these issues in the right way. We are often talking past each other, or at each other, but not having a genuine conversation about it. And that is where the change will start, with genuine conversations using up to date science and with a lens of New Zealand’s responsibility as a developed nation to be doing more than the bare minimum to solve this problem.



What do you have to do as a member of Gen Zero?

There are really variable roles within the organisation. In the Zero Carbon Act team we have roles in policy/research, engagement with communities/NGOs, social and traditional media, as well as admin and team organising. As we are all volunteers we play to people’s strengths and work with the skills we have available at any particular time. In means having to adopt an adaptable work style but the results are great.  

Has there been a standout moment?

The highlight of the Zero Carbon Act campaign has to be when the new govt announced they would implement a Zero Carbon Act after a consultation period. They did this consultation in June/July 2018 and it was unreal to see our concept being debated up and down the country.

How can people find out more about volunteering for Gen Zero?

They can sign up on our website – or contact one of the Zero Carbon Act team at



Your research with the Resilience Challenge is centred around climate change and adaptation too, can you tell us about that?

My PhD is funded through the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges programme and it is looking at how citizen science can be used to build community resilience to hazard events. In a nutshell it is looking at how participation in science can help to increase knowledge of hazards and build trust of science/scientists within communities. I am building a model for how hazard researchers can include citizen science more effectively in their work and hope to trial it with a community-based coastal hazards project late next year.

What is the importance of citizen science?

I think that citizen participation in science is really important, especially in the age of ‘fake news’ and a growing distrust of the legitimacy of science in some circles. Citizen science has the ability to connect people with science in a way that builds trust in the process and the data produced. I like the ability of citizen science to empower groups to use the data they collect to manage problems in their environment.

Find out more about Lisa and her research here. 

Student profile: Ashley Rudkevitch



Community initiatives in rural resilience and post-disaster recovery




A bit about me 


I was born and raised in the Canadian subarctic in a town called Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Eventually I moved south where I earned a BA in anthropology and human geography at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

After I completed my BA I moved east to the University of Waterloo in Ontario where I completed a MA in Planning. My master’s thesis brought me back to my hometown of Yellowknife where I decided to focus my research on applying a community planning approach to the impacts of international tourism on a small, isolated city.

Before I had submitted my master’s thesis, I was told about a potential PhD with the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge. As I was already moving to New Zealand in January 2017 it was a well-timed, exciting opportunity and by mid-2017 I was enrolled in the PhD program at Lincoln University.


Ashley standing on the sea level rise with the Kaikōura ranges in the background

My project


The Kaikōura earthquake and its impact on the community is the basis for my PhD research. My study is focusing on various post-quake initiatives as a way to examine how the community is actively participating in the recovery and rebuild process. These community initiatives include organised social groups, festivals, group projects, social enterprises, and local food events. Ultimately, my question is what do these organised activities mean in terms of community resilience, and what do they reveal about the priorities, aspirations, needs and associated practices of local people in different phases of disaster recovery? By better understanding the nature, intention and success (or failure) of community actions and activities – we can provide better information about the challenges of recovery and ensure effective future responses.


To assess community resilience and the social, human aspects of recovery, in-depth, qualitative research methods are being used to develop a rich picture of life in the community two years’ on. The study uses semi-structured interviews with community members, key stakeholders and decision makers to obtain information on various initiatives. Participant observation at different community events and activities and document analysis – media and newspaper accounts, council documents and the recovery strategy itself – are also being used to triangulate the data.


South Bay sea floor rise, facing south towards the Hundalees

Next steps


My hope is that this research will advance understandings of the human dimensions of disaster recovery and hone and challenge current theoretical interpretations of community resilience.

As I am currently doing fieldwork, my thesis will be submitted mid-2020. While in the write-up phase I anticipate to present my research at conferences and produce journal articles.


The view from the bridge over Waikōau/Lyell Creek looking towards the Kaikōura ranges

Operationalising resilience through a practice-science collaboration: A match made in heaven?



By Ellie Kay and Dr Joanne Stevenson

How can scientists and practitioners work together to improve the resilience of our communities? Researchers in the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Trajectories, Culture, and Economics Toolboxes have been collaborating with the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office to develop indicators of resilience to measure the capabilities of the Wellington Region.

The Trajectories Toolbox team have been hard at work on the resilience “Warrant of Fitness” project, which is aimed at testing, refining, and enhancing the New Zealand Resilience Index. The project aims to provide a measure of resilience that incorporates the views of those living and working in the communities being measured, producing a more holistic understanding of resilience capabilities. The Trajectories team have partnered with the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO) to aid with the development of their Group Plan, connecting indicators of resilience to WREMO’s vision of a resilient community that is ready, connected, and capable of responding to and recovering from a disaster.


Photo: Michael Coghlan via Flikr

As well as developing indicators of resilience across a multi-capital model for the WREMO Group Plan, the project highlights the necessity of balancing the unique needs of both researchers and practitioners. This ensures everyone benefits from the collaboration, leading to better improvements for communities. Additionally, consultation with Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience practitioners led us to reconsider the types of indicators included in the New Zealand Resilience Index, demonstrating the importance of practice informing science, as well as science informing practice. These two-way conversations and collaborations are vital for pooling collective knowledge of a complex system like resilience.

The Warrant of Fitness is making important steps to bridging the gap between science and practice, with the aim of improving resilience in place-based communities. In line with the Sendai Framework, the team is producing actionable knowledge that can be used by different groups to address resilience issues in their communities.