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 lead 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 program. 


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. One 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: 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

Student profile: Becca Fraser 



Rural resilience : A geospatial story


A bit about me 


I was born and raised in Auckland with five other siblings, and with strong ties to rural family in the South Island.

My interest in disasters began as I was nearing the end of my undergraduate degree in geology and anthropology at The University of Auckland. I have always been driven towards understanding how communities and people connect to each other, and how a deeper understanding of what makes up a community contributes to the wider picture of resilience. While I love the physical science aspect of geology, I think the anthropological modus operandi of collecting the narratives of people and communities is valuable in exploring the dynamic intersections between disasters and humans.

Moving to Christchurch to study in the Master of Disaster, Risk and Resilience programme was a way of combining these interests, allowing me to explore the impacts of hazards on people and places. Through this programme I was given the exciting opportunity to work on an internship with Tom Wilson (University of Canterbury) and Nick Cradock-Henry (Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research) aimed at improved understandings of rural resilience through geospatial data visualisation, leading into a thesis in 2019.


My project


My project is focused on building a geospatial atlas describing and visualising aspects of disaster resilience in New Zealand’s rural communities. New Zealand’s rural communities are an essential part of our national identity, but face a variety of natural hazards which can cause a range of social and economic impacts.  We are beginning to understand what factors can increase and decrease disaster resilience within our rural communities. Some are simple, such as remaining connected to friends and family (support networks), and some are complex. Recovery potential for example is often reliant on a business’ health prior to a disaster.  But this information can form a powerful communication and decision-support tool for pre- and post-disaster planning by rural households and other disaster decision makers.   My project is attempting to visualise some of these types of data in the form of informatics and maps, with the intention of empowering individuals and organisations to make better resilience decisions.


The questions my study aims to answer are:

  • What is rural New Zealand? – Where are rural communities located; what is their gender, ethnic and demographic makeup; what jobs do they have; and how has this changed over time? Has this been affected by policy, social and economic changes? And if so, how?
  • How might rural New Zealand be affected by natural hazard disasters? – Where are natural hazards in New Zealand; what are the short and long term impacts of disasters for rural NZ, including drought, snow, storm, earthquake; and what might be the potential impacts of future climate variations?
  • Can we assess rural resilience? Utilising geospatial data sets to track temporal change in rural communities and the state of rural resilience currently. These datasets include population, demographic change such as median workforce age change over time, economic indicators and even land use changes


I have drawn on the Resilience Challenge Trajectories Toolbox work to frame and develop this project and its future outputs. Trajectories research on resilience indicators, and how these contribute to the development of rural New Zealand as well as the work that has gone into building effective resilience data within the New Zealand specific context continues to guide the direction and scope of my project.

My project ties in with the Resilience Challenge Rural Co-Creation Laboratory, which is dedicated to finding solutions to enhance and understand the resilience of rural New Zealand, and to better protect and enable these communities to thrive. The project serves as a complementary link between the two research programmes and allows me to draw on many different researchers for expertise and assistance.

Rural community change over time (click to enlarge).


Next steps


In relation to my project, I am currently working on increasing engagement with the Data Integration and Visualisation en masse (DIVE) platform. The DIVE Platform is aimed at facilitating online data cataloguing, sharing and collaboration of New Zealand resilience data, and is intended to enable integrated and engaged research that will enhance New Zealand’s resilience to hazards. This ties in closely with my Rural Resilience/Indicators project. I am currently working on developing valuable and effective data visualisations to help build a Rural Resilience atlas.

I am excited about the future direction of this project using contemporary and emerging information techniques to help tell a story and making a positive contribution toward the understanding of rural resilience.

Project AF8 and RNC-Rural: New knowledge on Alpine Fault consequences



By Caroline Orchiston and Tom Wilson

 The Alpine Fault is expected to produce a magnitude 8 earthquake in future, which will widely impact the South Island and lower North Island. The Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Rural Laboratory (RNC-Rural) is working with Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) and lifelines agencies to improve the way we understand the likely impacts to enhance how we respond and recover.


Alpine Fault, Lake Poerua and Taramakau River.
Alpine Fault, Lake Poerua and Taramakau River. © GNS Science


Understanding the Alpine Fault

The Alpine Fault is a 800-long plate boundary fault that runs down the western side of the Southern Alps, and presents a significant seismic hazard for New Zealand.
The Alpine Fault is a 800-long plate boundary fault that runs down the western side of the Southern Alps, and presents a significant seismic hazard for New Zealand.

The Alpine Fault has a long history of generating large earthquakes, with 27 previous earthquake events in the geological record over the last 8,000 years. These earthquakes happen on average every 300 years, with the last event in 1717 AD.

An earthquake of this scale will cause damage and destruction across many parts of the South Island. Do we know what impacts it will cause?  Are we ready for it?  What can we do to prepare for it?  How can we reduce the risk?

RNC-Rural researchers and practitioners, along with our partners in the Resilience Challenge Infrastructure, Economics, Hazard and Culture Toolboxes, are trying to better estimate what the likely impacts and consequences of an event of this scale would be. We are looking at what effect mitigation actions may have on potential consequences, and how all this information can be useful, useable and used. Working closely with CDEM, lifelines agencies, rural communities, and government stakeholders we have developed a clearer picture of the level of disruption the quake would cause to critical lifeline infrastructure, the spatial extent of impacts and the cascading consequences that we might expect.


Project AF8

RNC-Rural has led a Resilience Challenge partnership with Project AF8, a South Island-wide Alpine Fault earthquake response planning initiative led by the 6 South Island Civil Defence Emergency Management groups (Canterbury, Marlborough, West Coast, Nelson, Southland, Otago) and the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management. The goal of Project AF8 is to improve the response capability of South Island CDEM groups, and to develop an operational plan to support the response. In order to achieve this, Project AF8 needed hazard and resilience science from a trusted and credible source. RNC-Rural has co-funded the development of the resilience science outputs required for the project to be a success, in collaboration with QuakeCoRE and with input from the Resilience Challenge Infrastructure, Economics, Hazard and Culture Toolboxes. A scenario-based co-creation method has been used, with emergency managers, Alpine Fault scientists and partner organisations working together to build a clearer picture of what a future event might look like across the South Island. RNC-Rural has played a critical role in developing the impact scenarios for Project AF8, which present a gap in current knowledge and require the delivery of new models and outputs over relatively short timeframes.


The AF8 Scenario intensity model, overlain with critical infrastructure networks
The AF8 Scenario intensity model, overlain with critical infrastructure networks

Producing useful, usable knowledge

A key aspect of Project AF8 has been the co-creation of knowledge between researchers and practitioners.  It is an example of the Resilience Challenge shifting the focus from producing risk information per se, towards co-producing risk knowledge that is understandable and actionable by different kinds of users for a hazard of national significance in New Zealand.  This shift has been called for by the UNISDR Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which describes the need to “strengthen disaster risk governance and coordination across relevant institutions and sectors and the full and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders at appropriate levels” (UNISDR 2015), and is core to our approach. 

Otago CDEM Workshop for the AF8 Scenario
Otago CDEM Workshop for the AF8 Scenario

One of the biggest ‘wins’ of the partnership with Project AF8 has been the relationships that RNC-Rural and Infrastructure researchers have built with stakeholders. Led by Ali Davies, the researchers have worked with West Coast lifeline infrastructure organisations, the Franz Josef community (located on the Alpine Fault) and the West Coast CDEM Group to plan for recovery after an Alpine Fault earthquake using detailed hazard, impact and resilience modelling research. These relationships are invaluable, and help to ensure that the research and outputs from this work are useful for those most affected.

The stakeholder support gained through Project AF8 was illustrated in a letter that Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel sent to Civil Defence Emergency Management Minister Kris Fa’afoi on behalf of the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Joint Committee. It requested that the Government prioritise Alpine Fault response and recovery planning, and provide enough funding to ensure that the work is completed with urgency.


Sharing the knowledge

The RNC-Rural and Project AF8 science team have made a significant commitment to making the science of the Alpine Fault accessible through public outreach. There has been an incredible appetite for outreach and engagement in this space. Over the past 18 months, the science team have delivered more than 55 presentations to many groups, agencies, and communities all over the country.  We have presented to small rural communities, Mayors, CEOs and Directors, front-line emergency services staff, planning and intelligence groups, government ministries, health and welfare agencies, and even consulates (diplomatic offices from other countries).

The presentations have been well-attended and often receive high praise, showing how much the potentially affected communities and groups appreciate having our findings communicated. For example, following a presentation to a District Health Board, an attendee noted: “you achieved fabulous engagement and I am confident it will materially assist with an increase in resources to facilitate our planning”. 

We have also contributed to the design, development and content used in several series of public and specific sector-focused outreach materials used through the South Island. 



The impact, risk and resilience knowledge that RNC-Rural is developing will help New Zealand better understand the consequences of a future Alpine Fault earthquake. Using a co-creation model for developing the research agenda and tailoring the outputs to suit stakeholder needs has been very successful, and Project AF8 has achieved excellent reach, impact and trust with its stakeholders. Many organisations seeking to improve their emergency management and business continuity response plans have adopted the Project AF8 earthquake scenario as the basis for their planning.

Re-imagining Rural Resilience



By Nick Cradock-Henry

Kaikōura shoreline after the 2017 quake.
Kaikōura shoreline after the 2017 quake. Photo: Nick Cradock-Henry

Rural regions throughout New Zealand face multiple social, environmental and economic challenges. One of these challenges is the range of natural hazards that rural communities, infrastructure and economies are exposed and sensitive to. The vulnerability of our rural regions has been illustrated in recent storms which affected transportation links to Golden Bay; the impacts of the Kaikōura-Hurunui earthquake; and the flooding in the Bay of Plenty. From high-impact weather events, to seismic and volcanic risks, coastal erosion and other processes – there is a lot that can and does affect one of our primary economic drivers, and the people and communities who call it home.

Preparing for and responding to these sorts of events is challenging at the best of times, but for rural New Zealand, this is compounded by limited road and rail connections (which can be damaged or closed entirely during hazard events), communications infrastructure and local economies that often depend on getting goods, services and people (from tourists to milk to meat) in and out of the regions.

Research is currently underway through the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge, to better understand the unique features of rural New Zealand and its populations. Researchers are working with rural communities to learn more about the ways in which disasters have short, but also long-term impacts for farming households. This work is helping scientists, as well as policy and decision makers to re-imagine rural resilience, and to make sure that we have plans, processes and principles to respond effectively during emergencies, and ensure that rural New Zealand thrives – no matter what.



Transient rural populations and resilience

Have you ever wondered what happens to tourists during an emergency? Or seasonal workers? That is the question Prof David Simmons from Lincoln University and his colleagues are looking at as part of their project on transient populations and rural resilience. During the summer months, New Zealand’s scenic rural towns are filled with tourists, and much of our agricultural industry relies on temporary workers to harvest fruit, thin vines, and work in pack houses. Many of these visitors and workers move around, may have only limited English language skills, and may not be as familiar with the hazards associated with the local landscape. Those of us from the South Island, for example, are all too familiar with earthquakes, but a visiting tourist might not know what to do during a quake. The aim of this project to provide local councils, tourism providers and other organisations with recommendations they can use to help ensure that these mobile populations are prepared for anything.


Translations of emergency response messages in Kaikōura.
Translations of emergency response messages in Kaikōura. Photo: Nick Cradock-Henry

It’s hot in here!

For farmers in North Canterbury, the last few years have been particularly difficult. Summer temperatures were well above normal, winter rainfall was low, and as a result grass was simply not growing as expected, meaning feed was in short supply. When an earthquake struck the district just after midnight on 14 November 2016, it only added to their problems. Limited road access meant transportation costs rose, making feed even more expensive; the market for stock declined as it was more and more difficult to process animals locally; and on the farm fences had to be replaced, slips repaired, and farm tracks redone. David Wither is a PhD student with the Rural programme, and his work is looking at just what it means for farming households when a slow, creeping hazard like a drought, meets a fast moving, high impact event such as an earthquake. He is working alongside farmers, rural recovery groups and others in the Hurunui District to look at how recovery happens. Findings from his work will help us better understand what goes on in rural regions following a disaster, and help ensure that when we DO rebuild or repair, that people’s needs, priorities, and resilience to future events is taken into consideration. 



Everything is connected

The 14 November 2016 earthquakes didn’t just affect Kaikōura, and it wasn’t the shaking alone that caused problems. University of Canterbury Master’s student Jess McHale is interested in how the earthquakes triggered multiple, connected impacts for farming households in the Hurunui District. Instead of doing a large-scale survey of rural populations, Jess is looking at three farms in detail to better understand how differences in location and farm-type, for example, influenced the scale and extent of damage. As bad as the shaking was, for farmers it also affected building and irrigation systems, and the infrastructure they rely on to conduct their business, including the roads and electricity networks. The long-term effects remain to be seen, but it may be that some farmers decide to change land use or reorganise their farming systems. Having a better understanding of what fails during a disaster, and how that in turn affects farming, can help us plan for the future.




Rural New Zealand is in many ways, the backbone of the country, supporting not only our economy, but numerous households, communities, and enterprises that call it home. To enable rural New Zealand to continue to thrive in the face of nature’s challenges, we hope that this – and other research now underway – will provide new knowledge, tools and processes that will enable us to make better decisions and recover more quickly when the next disaster comes.


Kaikōura Shoreline.
Kaikōura Shoreline. Photo: Nick Cradock-Henry

Port Hills Fire experiences might help answer some burning questions



By Lisa Langer


Smoke rising from the 2017 Port Hills fires. Photo: K. Bayne, Scion

We live in a risky environment. New Zealand experiences wildfires, floods, landslides and earthquakes far too frequently. But are we aware of the risks, and how prepared are we to reduce their impact and cope with a disaster? 

Natural disasters can’t be predicted, but events like wildfires are relatively numerous. The country experiences an average of around 4,100 small wildfires a year, and they have been having a greater effect on communities in recent years. In fact 16 homes were lost in rural fires throughout New Zealand during the 2016-2017 fire season, the greatest number lost in 100 years (AFAC, 2017).

With climate change likely to bring increasing temperatures and more severe drought conditions to drier areas of the country, more wildfires are expected. The communities that have been most affected by wildfire tend to be in the rural-urban interface – where towns and cities meet the rural landscape. As New Zealand’s population grows, and suburbia spreads, the line between urban and rural is blurring, exposing more people to new and greater wildfire risks.

Research is the key to understanding community awareness of rural fire risk. It can help to inform us of community preparations to minimise wildfires and their impacts, levels of household and community preparedness and how residents behave when faced by the need to evacuate.

The February 2017 Port Hills fire is one of the few large wildfires that has occurred at the edges of a large urban area in New Zealand. Nine houses were lost and about 1,500 residents, many of whom were living on small suburban properties that are not usually associated with rural fires, had to be evacuated.


Fire damaged properties in the Early Valley area of the Port Hills wildfire. Photo: V. Clifford, Scion

One year on from the devastating fire Lisa Langer, Scion senior scientist, who self-evacuated from the area during the fire, says we have a rare opportunity to examine the awareness of the risk of rural fire and the levels of preparedness in two subsets of the community – life style block owners and suburban dwellers. 

“Working as part of the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Rural Co-creation Laboratory, and with Fire and Emergency NZ fire managers, social scientists from Scion’s Rural Fire Research Group plan to interview people from fire-affected areas to see if their awareness of wildfire risk has changed since their wildfire experience, whether their experiences have affected the way they use fire now, and their preparedness for future wildfires.


Fire affected properties along Worsley Spur Road, one of the most heavily impacted areas by the Port Hills wildfire. Photo: V. Clifford, Scion

“The work will build on seven previous case studies Scion has carried out in fire affected rural and rural-urban interface communities over the last 15 years, and will help us provide a greater understanding of subsets within communities and recommend to fire managers how to prepare other communities for future wildfires and other natural disasters.”

Tragic and frightening as it was, the Port Hills fire will help our understanding of how people and communities experience disasters. This won’t stop the next, inevitable event, but as we apply learning and outcomes to enable agencies to foster and enhance resilient behaviours the next event may be less devastating.


Lifestyle properties in the rural-urban interface of Worsley Spur were heavily impacted by the wildfire which occurred on the Port Hills in February 2017. Photo: V. Clifford, Scion

AFAC (2017). Independent operational review. A review of the management of the Port Hills fires in February 2017. Prepared for Fire and Emergency New Zealand, July 2017.

For further information contact Lisa Langer

Rethinking Rural Disaster Risk Reduction



By Tyler Barton

The resilience of New Zealand’s rural areas is of national economic significance, with its diverse primary industries and businesses underpinning our regional economies. Equally important is its vital contribution to the social and cultural fabric of the nation. Rural New Zealand has specific needs and challenges in the face of natural hazards, which are often not adequately addressed in current responses and management plans. Tyler Barton, a PhD student at the University of Canterbury, aims to address this issue with research funded by the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Rural programme. He is using the response and recovery of rural areas impacted by the November 2016 Hurunui / Kaikōura Earthquake as a case-study to improve understanding of rural disaster impacts, and of how rural communities engage with national response and recovery agencies. Alongside this, he is examining a South-Island wide science/policy collaborative project focused on preparing for a major Alpine Fault earthquake. He is using the Alpine Fault project to figure out what contributes to the most effective communication of “useful, usable, and used” hazard research to those who need it, particularly in rural areas.


Tyler Barton enjoying Northern Canterbury’s backcountry

The Hurunui / Kaikōura earthquake in November 2016 had huge impacts on rural communities, particularly those in the primary industries and tourism sector. In response, these communities demonstrated amazing adaptability and innovation, as have many other rural communities affected by disasters throughout New Zealand. Support from governmental and non-governmental agencies swung into action quickly, providing timely and useful response and recovery assistance. Disasters like this help us to improve our understanding of the range of impacts experienced by these rural communities, and show us how effective the disaster risk management activities and strategies used at the time were. We can use this knowledge to increase disaster resilience in the rural sector.

Tyler has held interviews and workshops with individuals, organizations, and government agencies that were involved in response and recovery operations after the Kaikōura earthquakes. These are being used to bring together often differing local, regional and national level perspectives and experiences, to build a clearer picture of the way response and recovery unfolded in this rural context. Policy and decision-makers based in cities aren’t always aware of the range of natural hazard impacts experienced by rural communities. Because of this, sometimes those who arrive in the region from urban centres to support response and recovery activities may expect response priorities that differ from those of local communities. This case study makes it possible to apply a rural lens to current national disaster resilience policy, to identify pinch-points, and to provide recommendations concerning disaster risk management in rural contexts.


Maps, created by RNC-Rural, laid out and ready for use in a pre-event planning exercise at a District Council

The second part of Tyler’s work focuses on the way researchers communicate disaster risk science and potential disaster impacts in rural areas to groups like response agencies and communities. To gain a better sense of what fit-for-purpose risk reduction research and information looks like in this context, Tyler’s doctoral project examines the co-creation processes used during Project AF8. This South Island-wide programme brings together emergency responders, public and private practitioners, and research scientists to collaboratively prepare for a future large magnitude earthquake along the Alpine Fault. Project AF8 is an excellent example of researchers and practitioners coming together to discuss and co-create the information needed by high level emergency managers in New Zealand during such an event. By studying the processes used in Project AF8, Tyler will gain a better understanding of the needs and priorities of Civil Defence. His findings will be useful in a range of other areas where practitioners need high quality scientific information that is relevant to their specific needs.


Stakeholder engagement in action

Tyler’s project aims to: increase understanding of the ways in which a disaster risk reduction policy that was not designed for rural contexts has informed recent disaster risk management in rural New Zealand; provide recommendations concerning adapting current approaches to address rural needs and for those wishing to communicate fit-for-purpose hazard research to disaster risk and resilience information end users. The goal is to increase the resilience of rural communities to future disasters.

A systematic review of rural resilience in New Zealand



By Nick Cradock-Henry

Rural communities throughout New Zealand face significant challenges. The recent earthquakes in Kaikoura, Marlborough and Hurunui districts, Port Hills and Hanmer fires, and flooding in the Bay of Plenty – highlight some of the hazards affecting rural NZ, their characteristics, and the way responses to them have been managed.

Uplift at Needles Point triggered by the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake. © GNS Science
Uplift at Needles Point triggered by the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake. © GNS Science

Resilience is a concept increasingly used by policy makers, researchers and practitioners to refer to positive characteristics of individuals, households, and communities. Resilience is about recovering from adverse events, and thriving in the face of uncertainty. As part of the National Science Challenge Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, the Rural team is working with a range of research partners on a range of priority topics that have the potential to inform current and future efforts at reducing harm from hazard events.

As part of the Rural program, we have done a systematic review of the research on rural resilience. The aim was to find out what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know about rural resilience in NZ in order to ensure that the work we do fills critical gaps in our understanding. 


Sheep farm, Canterbury. © GNS Science
Sheep farm, Canterbury. © GNS Science

Our review shows that the research done to date has focused only on a few places in rural NZ. Most of this work has also been done using probabilities, and models of future events, and that there has been very little work that directly connects to what is going on in different places throughout the country. In-depth research with rural households and communities can provide new and different insights into the sorts of issues facing rural NZ as well as ways of managing them, and it can help influence the design of tools to better prepare people for the next event. Now that we have a clearer understanding of what we have done – and how we have done it – we are using this information to design research activities that work much more closely with rural communities, and in different ways. It is also effectively giving us a baseline: we can use this to track our own progress in filling knowledge gaps, and also use it to measure the effectiveness of resilience-building initiatives, to ensure that now, and into the future, rural NZ will thrive despite the challenges that come from living in these shaky isles.  

Student Profile: Alistair Davies



 Meet Alistair

Alistair is from the UK, where he studied Geography at the University of Cambridge and worked as a flood consultant before moving to New Zealand to pursue his PhD.  Alistair is studying Disaster Risk and Resilience at the University of Canterbury.  Outside of university, you can catch Alistair on stage performing musicals, with credits including “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” and “Wicked”.


What is Alistair’s project about?

Alistair’s research is focussed on increasing the resilience of potentially-isolated communities. As part of this work, Alistair has published a paper summarising the impacts of the 2016 “Kaikōura” earthquake on South Island transport. The paper showed that infrastructure failure can be the primary cause of disaster loss in a New Zealand context. Since then, Alistair’s research has explored scenario co-creation through a collaboration between Franz Josef community members, infrastructure providers and Civil Defence Emergency Management.

Franz Josef Glacier township, located within the West Coast region of New Zealand’s South Island, is a rapidly-developing tourist centre that, alongside Queenstown and Milford Sound, is an iconic location for New Zealand tourism. However, the township is seriously threatened by a number of natural hazards including earthquakes, landslides, rockfall, river floods, debris-flows and landslide-dambreak floods. The township also only has one road in and out of the town, meaning it is prone to isolation.


Through a series of workshops facilitated by Alistair, Franz Josef community members and infrastructure stakeholders have co-created a scenario, building upon the Project AF8 (Alpine Fault magnitude 8 earthquake) scenario.  This co-creative approach has resulted in the scenario acting as a means of translation, facilitating collaboration between stakeholders. It has also meant that the work focusses on issues of specific concern to the community members and stakeholders.  Alistair has also written a conference paper with colleagues at the University of Oxford, which shows the collaboration has helped improve infrastructure modelling science.

Alistair’s research is supported by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and the National Science Challenge Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Rural, Infrastructure and Hazards programmes.  His supervisors are Tom Wilson, Tim Davies, Sarah Beaven, Liam Wotherspoon, JC Gaillard and Matthew Hughes.


What’s next?

Alistair is currently writing up his thesis, which is due to be completed mid-2018.  He plans to publish a number of papers from this research.  Post-submission, Alistair plans to continue developing the scenario co-creation methodology with communities and infrastructure providers.