Researchers have found that Auckland businesses are vulnerable to infrastructure loss caused by natural hazard events, with over three-quarters unable to function when water, communication or electricity was lost in this year’s storm in April.
On 10 April 2018 Auckland was hit by a severe storm, with heavy rain causing flooding, and winds of up to 140km/h, which are typical of a category 2 tropical cyclone. The storm resulted in the loss of electricity to thousands of homes in Auckland, as well as cancellations of flights in and out of the city.
Researchers from Resilience to Nature’s Challenges surveyed small to medium-sized businesses in Mt Albert, New Lynn, Glen Innes, Devonport, Titirangi and Glendowie to find out how the storm affected their operation, and to understand their current levels of resilience and preparedness.
They found that of 71 businesses surveyed, three quarters or more were unable to function without key infrastructure services. 74% of businesses reported not being able to function without telecommunication, 84% couldn’t operate without a water supply and 96% without electricity. Dr Alice Chang-Richards, lead researcher on this project notes, “this highlights a large gap in emergency preparedness in these businesses, who are very dependent on infrastructure services due to not having backup generators or water tanks in case of an emergency.”
The study also found that 20% of businesses did not have an emergency or business continuity plan in place. Plus, of those that did, many noted that they did not practice their plan. This suggests that even if businesses do have these plans, when disaster strikes, they are unlikely to be able to carry them out effectively and benefit from them. “Natural disaster events are stressful, and we often don’t think clearly during them. This is why practice and preparation are key, as they allow us to have a muscle-memory response to the event, rather than having to remember and comprehend the plan before being able to act on it.”
Further to this, only a very small number of the surveyed Auckland businesses reviewed and improved their business model after the storm. “The 96% of businesses who did not review and improve their business model could not foresee a way to cope with disruptions caused by natural events in the long-run, as they failed to revise their business model to adapt to unexpected changes,” said Dr Chang-Richards.
Sarah Sinclair, acting director of Auckland Emergency Management, said, “when we talk to Aucklanders about their preparedness and resilience to natural hazards we are also talking to the business community. We encourage all businesses from the large multi-nationals to the local manufacturing plant and the corner dairy to consider how they would operate without the essentials.”
“Some emergencies are short-lived, but some can last days to weeks. Having access to supplies and having plans in place for businesses and households to talk about and practice is vital. Visit www.aucklandcivildefence.org.nz for advice and assistance.”
This study is part of the Auckland Business Resilience project, within the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban Resilience research programme, led by Professor Suzanne Wilkinson. The Auckland Business Resilience project aims to identify vulnerabilities in the business sector, and assist with the development and testing of mechanisms to make Auckland businesses resilient. Researchers in the project have surveyed businesses over the past three years, studying those affected by the natural hazards that hit Auckland.
Resilience to Nature’s Challenges is one of eleven MBIE funded National Science Challenges. It is increasing the resilience of Aotearoa New Zealand by developing new scientific solutions to transform our response, recovery and “bounce-back” from our wide diversity of natural hazards.