Director’s update: COVID-19 and natural hazard resilience




By Richard Smith, Resilience Challenge Director 






We in Aotearoa New Zealand are all too familiar with natural hazard events like earthquakes and floods – the sudden disruption to communities and livelihoods, and the physical damage to homes, buildings, infrastructure and critical services. The slow onset, unseen and uncertain nature of the COVID-19 threat is disorienting. Perhaps like me you are switching between quiet confidence, given the positive local responses and the success of simple actions like basic hygiene, and some anxiety about the uncertain future, driven by concern for vulnerable family members, the already severe economic consequences, and the international factors beyond our control.
In this context of high uncertainty, it is not surprising we’ve seen people attempting to prepare through securing food and other resources. Another element adding to the uncertainty is the uniquely global nature of the virus, compared to even the most devasting earthquake or mega-tsunami. We’re being bombarded by conflicting reports of impacts and responses from around the world which can be overwhelming and psychologically harmful. Knowing when to switch off the news and notifications is as important as staying reliably informed!     
Sociological research since the 1950s is clear. Panic and the breakdown of society makes for dramatic movie storylines but is NOT the usual human response. While it might seem as though self-isolation and physical distancing runs counter to the community connectedness that is critical for disaster resilience, we are seeing essential ‘social capital’ emerge in a range of ways. Self-isolation support groups are popping up on Facebook, and online community noticeboards are awash with offers of meal drops and grocery shopping for the elderly and vulnerable. And perhaps we’ll all finally learn how to unmute our microphones while on a conference call!
Soon, we may be required to slow right down and live very locally. We are reasonably familiar with what that means for individual communities post-disaster, but what will that mean for the whole nation? Natural hazard resilience research is relevant for understanding those impacts, and developing helpful interventions as part of the social and economic recovery after the health response has finished. There will also be key lessons from this event that are relevant to future natural hazard resilience (such as business continuity preparedness, supply chain resilience, and risk communication). The Resilience Challenge community stands ready to support that national effort.
Kia kaha koutou. Look after yourselves and others in these unusual times.















































Q & A with Prof Jan Lindsay



Q. Tēnā koe Jan. First of all, congratulations on your recent promotion to Professor!

Tēnā koe. Thank you. To be honest it still feels quite surreal! I think it is important to acknowledge that an academic career is built on collaborations – with mentors, students, fellow researchers and teachers, funders…and I wouldn’t have achieved promotion to Professor without the great mahi of all my collaborators. I hope they all realise how much I appreciate them!

Q. How did you get into volcanology? Have you always been fascinated with volcanoes?

Although I grew up in Rotorua surrounded by volcanoes it was only when I hit university that I developed an interest in Earth Science. Ironically, I didn’t do much science at high school and went to university to study languages and linguistics (English and German) with the aim of becoming a teacher! I took two Geology papers in my first year for fun, to fill a gap in my timetable because the description in the prospectus sounded interesting. It didn’t take long before I was hooked – and over the next 3 years converted from a BA to a BSc, and I guess the rest is history. I became specifically interested in volcanoes when I did my MSc on Hauturu – Little Barrier Island volcano in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

Q. I understand you’re the first woman Professor of Volcanology in New Zealand. Do you have thoughts on how can we inspire more girls and women to take up earth sciences, and support them into leadership roles?

There are about 6 or 7 people in Aotearoa New Zealand that would probably identify as Professors of Volcanology, and yes I am the only woman. In Earth Science as a whole it is not much better – I believe I am just one of 2 or 3 active female Earth Science Professors. We actually have a good number of women studying Earth Science and going on to do postgraduate study, but there are so few positions available after students finish their PhD that they often hit a wall and change career path or head overseas. More support for postdoctoral fellowships would make a big difference.     

Q. You’re co-leading the Urban theme for Phase 2 of the Challenge. What drew you to working on a National Science Challenge?

I was only peripherally involved in the first phase of the Challenge, and was really happy when the opportunity came up to join Phase 2 as theme leader for Urban. What drew me to it was the desire to be part of a great team with a great Kaupapa – the Theme leaders across the challenge are all exceptional researchers who are committed to a resilient future for Aotearoa, to nurturing the next generation of researchers, and to enhancing Mātauranga Māori, all things I fully support.

Q. What parts of the Urban research programme are you most excited about?

I am really excited about a new collaboration with law Professor John Hopkins at the University of Canterbury looking at governance around disaster response in the event of an Auckland Volcanic Field eruption. This particular project is co-funded by DEVORA (see below) and is an exciting addition to current research on Auckland’s volcanoes. The premise is if we can front-foot governance structures, laws and plans to be optimised for resilience and recovery we can reduce the shock and impact of a future event.

Jan caving on Rangitoto island

  Q. You also co-lead the multi-agency, interdisiplinary research programme DEVORA (Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland). Can you tell us a bit about that?

DEVORA is a multi-agency research programme co-led by myself and Graham Leonard (GNS Science) and funded by EQC and Auckland Council. Our research ranges from fundamental geological, petrological and geophysical studies on the nature of the Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF) to assessment of impacts and risk of a future eruption. The programme has been active for over 10 years and we have made some really important advances in understanding the AVF and the enormous economic, social and physical impacts that an eruption would have. A really important outcome is our whakawhanaungatanga, especially the relationship building between our researchers and Auckland Emergency Management. We also have an active steering committee of representatives from EQC and Auckland Council who help define research priorities, and we put a lot of effort into outreach via community events such as the Auckland Heritage Festival and our Facebook page.  

Jan in Argentina measuring tephra

Q. You’ve spent a lot of time studying and working overseas – in Germany, Chile, and the Carribean. How have these experiences influenced your research interests here?

My MSc supervisor Ian Smith used to say that volcanology is the ‘adventure science’, and I have indeed been lucky in my career to have had many adventures around the world. My experience overseas in seeing how people (in general) and authorities (in particular) interact with volcanic hazard and risk information really sparked my interest in volcanic hazard and risk communication, which I now focus a lot on here. For example, I have done field work to assess volcanic hazard in several overseas volcanic regions where authorities have instructed me not to mention to anyone what I was there for. In other places I have seen school children totally embrace the idea that they live on an active volcano and soak up information about their hazard and risk. These sorts of encounters have definitely shaped my research interests back in New Zealand, where I am really interested not only in how volcanoes work but how we might communicate what they might do in the future, for example via hazard maps or eruption forecasting or decision-making tools.   

Q. What are your future aspirations?

Other than to continue to work with an amazing group of students and researchers, I would love to see an increase in participation of Māori and Pasifika researchers in the Earth Sciences and aspire to support initiatives that aim to do just that. 


Student profile: Lydia Michela Maireriki


Tourist resilience to natural hazards in New Zealand: combining quantitative and qualitative perspectives



A bit about me 


I was born and raised in Maryland, USA, about an hour south of Washington, DC. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Brigham Young University and my Master’s degree in Disaster Risk and Resilience from the University of Canterbury. I moved to New Zealand in 2017 where I met my now-husband Mahu, a very charismatic Cook Islander. We have one son and a daughter on the way. I’m a member of the Mid-Canterbury TimeBank and am part of its emergency preparedness planning team. When not studying or running our family business, I like to swim, do stained glass, and read books that help me view the world differently. My most recent read was Invisible Women on the gender data gap. I highly recommend it to everyone, particularly researchers.


My project


As part of the Challenge’s Rural theme, I’ve just started my PhD through Lincoln University, with supervisors Jo Fountain, Stephen Espiner and Nick Cradock-Henry. 

Tourism is an important part of New Zealand’s economy and international reputation. My research project is looking at what it means to be a resilient tourist in a resilient tourism system here in New Zealand. I’ll be looking at particularly vulnerable tourist groups to better understand their in situ hazard and risk awareness, preparedness level, anticipated course of action, and information-seeking processes should a disaster such as an extreme weather event or earthquake occur. My focus will be on vulnerable places (e.g. rural areas) and people (e.g. freedom campers). I will do a mix of quantitative research via surveys and qualitative research via interviews. There is currently a lack of qualitative information on tourists’ perceptions of risks and hazards, their preparedness and anticipated response.

My main research question is:

What are the characteristics of tourists’ resilience to disaster within the context of New Zealand’s tourism system?

Related sub-questions are:

What are different ways of defining and conceptualizing tourist resilience to disaster?

What are key socio-demographic factors that affect risk awareness, preparedness and vulnerability?

Based on my findings, how can information providers (e.g. Department of Conservation, tourism businesses) increase tourists’ resilience in their respective areas of influence?


Lydia with her family

Next steps


I have been enrolled in my PhD for only a month, so I’m at the very beginning of my project, but I am very excited about developing our understanding of tourist resilience and provide information that can be applied in real world situations. My immediate goal is to complete my research proposal before my daughter arrives in a couple of months!!!


Urban theme





PhD scholarships available 




We have two PhD scholarships available, under the Urban theme. The successful applicants will be contributing to the development of more resilient urban communities.

Applications close Friday 28 February.

Contact details for each position can be found in the position descriptions linked below:


Q & A with Dr Acushla Dee Sciascia



Q. Tēnā koe Dee. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your iwi affiliations?

He uri ahau nō ngā kāwai whakapapa o Ngāruahine Rangi, Ngāti Ruanui and Te Atiawa.

Q. How did you get into social science research? Did you always want to be a researcher?

My ancestors are prolific researchers, so it was very natural for me to follow in their footsteps and continue the art of inquiry in the hope to seek out answers and revelations. I’ve always been interested in culture and people and with these two things come the responsibility to deepen and broaden one’s knowledge and understanding in these spaces to bring about change and transformation.

Q. What was your PhD on, and what were your major findings?

I wrote my PhD about Facebook and the rise of technological online and social media platforms pervading Māori society and culture. The research showed that, like our tūpuna, Māori have quickly adopted and adapted to the increase of social media use for a range of reasons. We use social media for whanaungatanga (to build and maintain relationships), for identity construction and (re)connection to culture, language and practices and we more recently are practicing our culture in online social spaces such as tangihanga (funerals). While all of these things we are doing are helping us to connect (on varying levels), the importance of being physically present and face to face represents challenges for further disconnecting our people. 

Q. We recently marked the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In your opinion what do we need to do to enable more young wāhine Māori to take up science and research?

We need more Wāhine Māori leadership roles. There is a prevalence of mostly Pākehā men who take up these spaces. Lets change this!

Q. You’re co-leading the Mātauranga Māori theme for Phase 2 of the Challenge. What drew you to working on the Challenge?

Mātauranga Māori is one of the corner stones of Te Ao Māori; everything we do, who we are, where we come from are told in the narratives, histories and oral traditions of our mātauranga. To lift this knowledge system in the field of western sciences is to ensure that our knowledges are given the credibility and mana they deserve. This is what attracted me to the role – the opportunity to play a part in this shift.

Q. What can western natural hazard research gain from incorporating Māori values, tikanga and knowledge?

If we were to return to indigenous ways of knowing and being, we would find that solutions to a lot of environmental issues could be approached though an indigenous lens. The same is to be said for natural hazard research – through a kaupapa Māori approach, we can understand resilience to be not only about surviving but thriving in our diverse contexts and environments. 

Q. Through this programme, what resilience tools and innovations do you hope to be able to deliver for iwi, hapū and whānau?

My aspirations for our Māori communities is that we think differently and innovatively about how resilience to natural hazards – what opportunities can we take from better understanding our natural environment that speaks to our unique Māori ways of knowing and being. One area in particular I’m excited about is how we translate knowledges to speak most effectively to a diverse range of audiences whose lives are most affected by natural hazards (e.g., coastal Māori communities, marae, hapū and iwi). We need to think differently about how our research translates to a language and medium that speaks to the hearts and minds of these communities.

Q. You were recently part of the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment Panel. How was that experience?

It was a challenging space given that the expectation when being one of two Māori on a panel of 10 is that you represent all Māori aspirations and this simply is not the case. Despite this pressure, myself and fellow colleague Shaun Awatere were able to imbue a strong whakaaro Māori into the framework from the very outset. We worked extremely well with other panelists and despite the parameters of time and urgency, I am proud of what we achieved for the framework.

Q. What are your future aspirations?

To see impactful shifts where Mātauranga Māori and western sciences not only complement each other, but are co-dependant. 


Challenge research used in
fuel security report

By Dr Nicola McDonald, Market Economics

In September 2017, the pipeline that distributes petroleum-based fuels from Marsden Point Oil Refinery to Auckland ruptured, halting the delivery of fuels into Auckland for 10 days and instigating a major rationing response for jet fuel usage at Auckland Airport, with significant disruption to air transport. This incident was not unforeseen: as part of repeated reviews of the nation’s fuel security the government had previously commissioned compilation of a set of potential supply disruption ‘scenarios’ to inform resilience planning. A pipeline disruption of the type and duration of the 2017 event had indeed been considered among these scenarios.


The pipeline connecting Marsden Point Oil Refinery and Auckland Airport was breached in 2017. Photo: Refining NZ

To assist the government in further resilience planning, and to provide information to support the ensuing Government Inquiry into the Auckland Fuel Supply Disruption, ME Research (assisted by Resilient Organisations) was commissioned to undertake an analysis of the economic consequences of the fuel supply disruption scenarios, including consideration of the benefits of investing in mitigation measures such as additional storage facilities. Although economic analyses of the disruption scenarios had been undertaken previously, this study was unique in that it utilised a systems-based approach involving the identification of cascading consequences of fuel disruptions and utilised MERIT (Measuring the Economics of Resilient Infrastructure Tool), a decision support system that has been partly developed and extended within the Resilience Challenge.  The final report Economics of Fuel Supply Disruptions and Mitigations considered five of the disruption scenarios, focusing particularly on those that would impact the Auckland region.[1] The report also provided commentary on how this type of scenario-based analyses might sit within a policy/planning framework and the points of difference between the economic modelling and common cost-benefit type approaches.

The Inquiry Members drew on the findings of this report, in particular noting limitations in the application of cost-benefit analysis to evaluate ‘resilience’ investments. The Inquiry Members also noted the report’s findings that the main contributions of scenario-based economic impact analyses are to (1) reduce uncertainty by helping to explore the causes, effects, and potential outcomes of disruption events; and (2) provide a common focus for debate on the appropriate level of societal investment in mitigation steps. Various measures to improve Auckland’s fuel security were suggested by the Inquiry Members. [2]



The impact of the Kaikōura earthquake on perceptions of earthquake risk in Wellington


By Lauren Vinnell

There are many challenges to studying peoples’ thoughts and behaviour around earthquakes; one of them is that we can’t easily test the how such events change the way people think and act. We can ask people about their past experiences or we can ask them after an event to recall what they thought and what they did before an event. These methods have generated a lot of valuable, useful information to help us encourage people to prepare, for example. Occasionally, however, we have the opportunity to use a different method; a natural experiment. This is where study participants are assigned to conditions, like in an experiment, except that the assignment is done by a natural phenomenon instead of by the researcher. Using this method relies on timing as you can’t really plan a study to be before something like an earthquake, but if we happen to have run a study just before something happens we can then run another study afterwards designed to allow us to compare the data from the two time points.

I ran a survey of Wellingtonians, looking at their support for legislation to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings, a few months before the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake. I ran the same survey again in December, which meant that I had answers to the same questions from both before and after the earthquake so that I could see how the event changed those answers.


Lauren presenting at the Risk and Decision-making Conference, Wellington, Nov 2019. Credit: Emma Hudson-Doyle

Several of my findings were expected. People were more concerned about both earthquake-prone buildings and earthquakes generally and were more prepared after the Kaikōura earthquake (although past research tells us that these increases will disappear pretty quickly). Surprisingly, people in Wellington were generally less supportive of legislation to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings following the earthquake, even though they were more concerned about the risk they pose. This might be because the legislation applies only to older buildings, while several high-profile, more modern buildings were damaged in the earthquake. This finding has important implications for both how we communicate to the public about the legislation as well as how we report on earthquake damage to make sure that reasons for unusual or unexpected impacts are explained.


Demolition of Wellington building after Kaikōura earthquake. Credit: Margaret Low, GNS Science

In this study, I also tested the impact of social norm messages which describe whether a particular group engages in and approves of a particular behaviour. Some of the participants were told that most other Wellingtonians approved of the legislation (called an injunctive social norm) and others were told how many buildings are being strengthened each year (called a descriptive social norm). I had already found that these messages affected Wellingtonians’ opinions about the legislation; I wanted to know if these social norms were as impactful right after the earthquake.

We know from past social science research that people tend to rely on this information when they have less knowledge already. People knew more about the legislation after the earthquake and there was some evidence that our social norm messages had less of an impact. They did still show some effects on participants’ opinions about the legislation however, suggesting that if we use this type of messaging to encourage natural hazard preparation and something like an earthquake happens to occur, then the messaging should still be effective.

Multihazard Risk Model

PhD scholarships available 




We have six PhD scholarships available, under the Multihazard Risk theme. The successful applicants will be helping deliver world-leading multi-hazard risk and impact modelling, to support better decision making and planning.

The positions are based at different New Zealand universities, depending on topic and supervisor.

There is no closing date for applications, but we hope to have the positions filled within three months. 

Contact details for each position can be found in the position descriptions linked below. 


Student Profile: Sara Harrison


Exploring the Data Needs for Impact-based Forecasting and Warning Systems in New Zealand




A bit about me 


I’m from Barrie, Ontario, Canada – a mid-sized city north of Toronto, in between the Great Lakes. We’re exposed to

 lots of active weather year-round. We experience white-out conditions from snowstorms in winter, and thunderstorms and the odd tornado in summer. Severe weather has always impacted my life, causing ‘snow-days’ due to rough winter roads, or outdoor soccer game cancellations due to risk of lightning strikes.

With a fascination for natural hazards and a love for reading and creating maps, I decided to study Geography at the University of Waterloo. For my honours thesis, I assessed the post-storm damage surveys conducted in Canada following potentially tornadic events. This sparked an interest in understanding how we could use crowdsourcing for disaster management, which I explored for my Masters of Environmental Studies (MES) degree, at the same university.

After completing my MES, I did some private GIS work but found that I preferred research. Fortunately, I met my current supervisor, Dr. Sally Potter from GNS, at the World Weather and Open Science Conference in Montreal just before starting my MES. We added each other on Facebook and three years later Sally posted a call for scholarship applications for a PhD project that aligned perfectly with my interests. The rest is history! In my spare time I enjoy rock climbing (bouldering), SCUBA diving, and travelling. 


My project


For my PhD I aim to map out existing and potential impact data sources from severe weather events in New Zealand to support a fairly new kind of warning system: impact-based forecasts and warnings. My guiding research question is: How is impact data currently collected, stored, and shared in New Zealand and how can this impact data support an impact-based forecasting and warning system?

In answering this question, I hope to identify current and potential sources of impact data for impact-based forecasts warnings and other applications like risk/impact modelling, response and recovery efforts, as well as challenges and opportunities in sharing the data and strengthening inter-agency collaborations for enhanced disaster risk reduction in New Zealand.

To do this, I’m interviewing people with expertise in creating, collecting, sharing, and using impact data for a variety of purposes including impact/risk modelling, severe weather warnings, and response. I’m using a grounded theory methodology to identify relationships and interdependencies between components in the impact-based forecasting and warning system and associated data infrastructure. I’m taking a sociotechnical approach so that I can explore both the social aspects of data creation, sharing, and use; along with the technical capabilities, limitations, and opportunities.

My research fits under the RNC2 Weather & Wildfire theme and aims to contribute to three efforts of the theme:

  • to help build national extreme weather hazards and impacts datasets,
  • to increase our understanding of impacts on communities, infrastructure, and economic activity, and
  • to improve the forecasting and warning services in New Zealand so that they provided more meaning to warning recipients.

My supervisors guiding me through this journey are Dr. Sally Potter (GNS), Dr. Raj Prasanna (Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Massey University), Dr. Emma Hudson-Doyle (Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Massey University), and Prof. David Johnston (Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Massey University).



Next steps


The expected outcome is to outline the process of getting impact data from the source (e.g. the public) to the end-users (e.g. Civil Defence groups, the MetService, impact/risk modellers, etc) for impact-based forecasts and warnings. This will help stakeholders understand what is available to them, and how they can access and contribute to it. Within a wider scope, this will support efforts towards meeting the requirements of the Sendai Framework to build a national impacts and losses database, as well as contribute to the implementation of impact-based forecasts and warnings in New Zealand.




Q & A with Dr Bill Fry



Q: Congratulations on your recently completed Hochstetter Lecture tour – how did it go?

Great! It was truly a rewarding and humbling experience. The audiences throughout the regions were as varied as the New Zealand landscape. However, the uniting characteristic was the genuine thirst for knowledge. I’ve been interacting with the New Zealand public for over a decade and I never fail to be impressed by the high level of understanding of geohazards and the keen desire to take on new science.

Q. You’re a seismologist and you also work a lot on tsunami hazards – how did you arrive at your current field of research?

I started my career in fundamental (academic) seismology, with very little focus on geohazards or societal application. Moving to New Zealand in 2008 changed all of that. I was fortunate enough to get a job with GNS as a civil servant, monitoring and responding to earthquakes. Almost immediately, the Mw7.8 Dusky Sound earthquake happened and my first real event response began. I was told that it was a “once in a career event”. Ha! The next decade produced three more M7+ earthquakes in New Zealand and a handful of tsunami responses. Once I saw tangible societal benefit in science and the true power of “science to practice”, there was no turning back.

Q: Your Hochstetter talk focussed on Kermadec trench earthquakes, and their potential to generate large tsunami for Aotearoa New Zealand. What are the major takeouts from this research?

Natural warning self evacuation (Long or Strong, Get Gone) is absolutely crucial to protecting coastal communities from many local tsunami-generating earthquakes. However, we’ve also documented local and regional tsunami-generating earthquakes that require a combination of natural warning, and science-based instrumental warning to keep coastal communities safe. The talk brought together geophysical observations, numerical simulations and observations of New Zealand citizens to highlight improvements that can be made to our tsunami response plans.

Q. You’re co-leading the Earthquake-Tsunami theme for Phase 2 of the Resilience Challenge. Can you talk us through the main projects in this theme?

Sure. The biggest challenge of putting hard numbers to seismic hazard in New Zealand is overcoming the limits of having a very short record of earthquakes. To capture the full range earthquake behaviour, we’d need to record earthquakes for tens of thousands of years. We obviously can’t do that (modern GeoNet recording only goes back to about 2001). Our theme will use our understanding of the physics of earthquakes and specific knowledge of New Zealand’s faults and tectonics to computationally model hundreds of thousands of years of earthquakes. We’ll look for earthquake sequences in those models that look like what we’ve seen over the last decade, and then see if subsequent earthquakes in the model inform us about what we might expect to see over the next 50 years. We’ll also evaluate whether this type of earthquake catalogue can underpin next-generation hazard models.

Q. How have the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes affected the priorities for earthquake research?

When you see first hand the impact of these sequences on local communities, the need for applied research is absolutely obvious. One of the main changes that was driven by both of the sequences is the understanding that hazard before the event is not the same as hazard after the event. We’ve become better and better at using science to inform future hazard following big earthquakes. We’ve also become better at quantifying the influence of differences in geology and the particular characteristic of individual earthquakes on the resulting strong ground shaking.

Q. The research involving synthetic earthquakes has led to collaboration with colleagues in Taiwan. Can you tell us more about this collaboration?

For the last six or eight years, we’ve had a close three-nation collaboration with Taiwan and Japan that has focused on seismic hazard. All three countries face similar geohazard challenges. Through this collaboration, we’ve realised that many of the benefits of our RNC2 research program are also applicable to Taiwan. We decided to move forward together, pooling our talents to make better outcomes for both counties.

I recently undertook a visiting professor position in Taiwan to help launch the project and now both we and Taiwan are well on our way.

Q. Looking beyond Phase 2 of the Challenge, what future avenues of research would you like to pursue?

I’m particularly interested in understanding the ways in which we can use sophisticated geophysical analyses (that we currently only apply in academic ways well after the response need has passed) to produce real-time products that can be used to save lives, limit risk and improve recovery as the event is happening and immediately after it.