Student Profile: Kristie-Lee Thomas



 Meet Kristie-Lee

Kristie-Lee grew up on the Chatham Islands, where her family have lived for many generations. She is of Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri iwi as well as a mixture of European links including Yugoslavian. She is studying towards a MSc in Disaster Risk and Resilience at the University of Canterbury and is passionate about building community resilience to naturally-triggered disasters. She enjoys any outdoor adventures including camping and hiking and likes spending time with family and friends. Kristie-Lee also loves cats, and pasta. 



What is Kristie-Lee’s project about?

Kristie-Lee wanted to conduct research that would be directly useful and usable by the Chatham Islands community. The Chatham Islands are located 800km east of Christchurch, have a population of about 600, and are home to a fishing and farming community. The Chatham Islands are exposed on all sides to local, regional and distant source tsunamis and have experienced destructive and fatal tsunamis in the past.


The research is a collaboration between University of Canterbury, NIWA, GNS Science, Environment Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) and Chatham Islands Council (CIC), with support from local infrastructure companies, iwi and imi. The research is also supported by the RNC-Rural programme (with guidance from the RNC-Matauranga Māori programme), RiskScape, EQC, and the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre. The purpose of her research is to engender, and to inform community-led action to reduce tsunami impact by involving the Chatham Islands community throughout the research to produce useful and usable outcomes. Kristie-Lee’s supervisors are: Ass. Prof. Thomas Wilson, Dr. Kate Crowley, Dr. Matthew Hughes, Prof. Tim Davies, Helen Jack, Dr. Emily Lane and Darren King.

Kristie-Lee is investigating indigenous oral history of tsunami on the Chatham Islands to map where tsunamis inundated in the past and what their impacts were. She really enjoyed talking to kaumatua (Māori elders) on the Chathams who kindly shared their knowledge with her. She is excited about the wealth of information brought to light, that is not included in current documented accounts and believes it is very important to incorporate indigenous knowledge of hazards into risk and impact assessments. What has happened before can happen again, and the more we know about past events and how they impact communities, the more prepared we can be for the next one.

She is also carrying out an impact assessment to work out how infrastructure may be impacted during a future tsunami event and how this might affect essential services (transport, electricity, communications, water and sewage) on the Islands. The impact assessment involved talking to infrastructure managers, collecting infrastructure data and utilised the information collated on past events. This impact assessment formed a scenario, showing what areas on the island might be without power, water supply, landline, internet and limited transportation access after a tsunami.  


The scenario was used during participatory community workshops in November 2017 on Chatham Island. The purpose of these workshops was to share and discuss the information she has gathered, and to hand over the reins to the community to evaluate what consequences losing essential services would have on the community to then work together to come up with ideas to reduce these consequences. The workshop participants identified issues that have not yet been recognised but also came up with many actions that could be taken by individuals, households, businesses and agencies to reduce future tsunami impact.



What’s next?

Kristie-Lee is currently writing up her thesis and has two months to go! She hopes her research will be used by community members, iwi and imi, business owners, infrastructure companies and emergency management agencies on the Chatham Islands to inform future disaster risk reduction initiatives. Kristie-Lee is writing a NIWA client report about the workshops and plans to publish a couple of journal articles from her research. After she hands in her thesis she wants to get a job and start her career in disaster risk reduction or emergency management. 


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