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.


Auckland Emergency Management: Working with Auckland’s Pacific Peoples



By Rohan Jaduram, Resilience and Welfare Advisor, Auckland Emergency Management

Auckland is home to the largest Pasifika population in the world. Pacific peoples make up 15% of Auckland’s population, but generally have very little awareness of hazards in the Auckland region (more detail on this is outlined in The University of Auckland’s ‘Pacific Island Leader Perspectives and Anticipated Responses to Natural Hazards in Auckland’ study which offers an in depth understanding of Auckland’s Pacific community). For many Pacific peoples in Auckland, English is also their second language. This means that developing language-specific emergency preparedness resources is vitally important to ensure that individuals and communities are prepared and able to take action, before, during and after an emergency.

As part of the Resilient Auckland Communities project, researchers have been working with Auckland Council on a Pacific Island Community focused project. This has involved Auckland Emergency Management identifying ways to improve communications and engagement with non-English speakers and migrants, including Pacific peoples.

The University of Auckland study mentioned above validated Auckland Emergency Management going beyond their normal communication and engagement work with Pacific peoples by, for example, translating information on hazards, risks and preparedness into Samoan, Tonga and Fijian, to help inform how we will do things in the future.

Auckland Council has developed best practice guidelines for translations. The guideline identifies Samoan and Tongan as one of the most commonly spoken languages other than English, and identifies Pacific peoples as a community with a higher percentage of people who don’t speak English. The guidelines have been useful in allowing Auckland Emergency Management to determine which Pacific community languages should be translated both regionally and across Auckland’s 21 local boards.


Translation of the national tsunami campaign for Samoan language week across Auckland Council’s digital channels.

After the Christchurch earthquakes the Christchurch Migrant Inter-Agency Group developed a ‘lessons learned’ report that underscored the importance of having translated material. Translating hazard, risk and preparedness information into Pacific languages has been a first step to getting emergency preparedness understood by Pacific peoples. Language-specific resources allow us to more effectively engage with those Pacific communities already passionate and motivated to become more prepared.


The protection and promotion of community languages has assumed greater urgency in the last ten years with the increased ethnic diversity in Auckland and the decline of some community languages. Pacific peoples, for example, have witnessed significant language loss. Within this cultural context, Auckland Emergency Management has worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Pacific Peoples in supporting various Pacific language weeks.

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples works closely with Pacific communities to maintain and promote community languages by running annual language weeks. They coordinate with key community groups such as Fa’alapotopotoga mo le A’oa’oina o le Gagana Samoa i Aotearoa, who have been organising Samoan Language Week for the last ten years. Auckland Emergency Management’s involvement with the language weeks has enabled connection to a much wider narrative around acknowledging and celebrating cultural diversity, while sharing and promoting messages about building a resilient Auckland with our diverse communities in their language.


Ben Hankinson, Rohan Jaduram (Auckland Emergency Management) and Laulu Mac Leauanae, Chief Executive of the Ministry Pacific Peoples, attending the launch of Fijian Language Week at Auckland Museum.

Auckland Council, which Auckland Emergency Management is part of, works where there are net benefits for communities, not exclusively in emergency management. In this regard, they have increased their presence in recognised ‘cultural spaces’ such as community festivals and cultural programmes. A particular highlight was being invited to ‘go live’ with an audio-visual resource developed by their public education team at the launch of Tongan Language Week held at the Auckland Museum. The resource features an interview with a Tongan family displaced during the West Auckland floods in March 2017. The resource was widely shared on social media, resulting in a significant increase and presence on Pacific focused social media sites.

The above actions and initiatives represent phase one in Auckland Emergency Management’s communication and engagement with Pacific communities. However, this phase did not involve input from the community. Hazard and risk communication approaches have traditionally had limited opportunity for community engagement and influence. This is an area where considerable improvement can be achieved by integrating the learnings from the University of Auckland’s Pacific Island Leader study and co-designing disaster communication for Pacific communities in phase two.

The study promotes best practice models that are community driven and agency supported. Key recommendations, such as engaging with Pacific communities when disaster occurs in the Pacific, developing a polymedia communication strategy, working across Church-based communities where possible, and working with elders and leaders, including emerging young leaders, are the drivers Auckland Emergency Management will look at including in their work.


Stephanie Wilson, Rohan Jaduram and Su’a William Sio, Minister for Pacific Peoples, at the Fiji Festival in Mangere.

Phase two will have a strong collaborative component which will build on the relationship developed with The Ministry for Pacific Peoples, which is seen as a trusted source of information, and includes a good representation across a range of organisations. This will involve undertaking a series of community workshops in partnership with The University of Auckland and New Zealand Red Cross.

These workshops will facilitate co-development of information and resources with the community. It builds on Auckland Emergency Management’s participatory and inclusive approach and the approach is further endorsed by the Pacific Island Leader study. The workshops will use the Effective Hazards and Risk Communications programme to seek feedback on how best to communicate and engage with Pacific peoples on hazards, risks and emergency preparedness information. It is also an opportunity to further test resources that have been developed for language weeks and other information with an Auckland application in mind. For instance, pre-recorded emergency preparedness messages in Samoan that have been developed through a pilot led by Christchurch City Council.

In addition, Auckland Emergency Management are partnering with the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management on a new approach based on the study. The new approach will guide how emergency information is shared before, during and after an emergency to a wide range of ethnic audiences, including Pacific peoples, which will involve working with experts and ethnic media outlets.

Identifying Vulnerabilities and Enhancing the Resilience of Auckland’s hospitality Businesses



By Dr Alice Chang-Richards

Photo: Franklin Heijnen via Flikr

Small businesses in the hospitality industry play a vital role in New Zealand’s economy. Researches have been analysing risks affecting small business in Auckland’s hospitality industry and investigating how to enhance their resilience.


New Zealand’s small businesses


Small businesses, also referred to as SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises), are defined as enterprises with less than 20 employees. They make up 97% of all businesses in New Zealand and make a significant contribution to our economy and society. However, they are subject to a wide variety of potential natural hazards and weather events, and, unlike larger companies, they often don’t have the resources or extent of knowledge to cope with these unexpected disruptions.  However, their survival is vital for the long-term health of New Zealand’s economy, and  it is essential that we identify and understand the vulnerabilities faced by small businesses. Once we understand what they are up against, we can develop and provide mitigation and management techniques that will help businesses to enhance their resilience. 

Many of New Zealand’s small businesses, particularly in our cities and tourist areas, are in the hospitality industry. With this in mind, researchers in the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban Resilience programme approached 200 hospitality industry businesses from late June to early August 2017, of which 71 took part in a survey looking at their resilience and perception of risks.


Risky business


First of all, researchers wanted to find out how aware hospitality businesses were of the potential threats they faced, and what they saw to be the biggest risks. Of the respondents surveyed, 80% considered themselves to be somewhat or fully aware of the potential threats facing their business. When asked what they saw to be their biggest barrier to resilience, staff levels and competencies was by far the most common response. Respondents also recognised the threat of natural hazards, which had been highlighted recently in New Lynn where severe weather earlier in the year affected both patronage and supplier prices. However, issues with staffing, downturns in economic conditions, and damages from fire or similar were most commonly thought to be the greatest risks overall. The table below shows the how the top five risks were ranked by different groups of businesses.

Surveyed businesses’ awareness of potential risks
Top five risks (with highest risk at the top and lowest at the bottom) for:
All Businesses “Fully Aware” Businesses 10+ Years Businesses Best Performing Businesses
Staffing Issues Fire or Similar Poor Economic Conditions (1st=) Natural Hazards (Incl Severe Weather, Earthquakes, Etc)
Poor Economic Conditions Staffing Issues Staffing Issues (1st=) Poor Economic Conditions
Fire or Similar Natural Hazards (Incl Severe Weather, Earthquakes, Etc) Natural Hazards (Incl Severe Weather, Earthquakes, Etc)(3rd=) Theft or Robbery (3rd=)
Competition Poor Economic Conditions Fire or Similar (3rd=) Staffing Issues (3rd=)
Natural Hazards (Incl Severe Weather, Earthquakes, Etc) Theft or Robbery Theft or Robbery Competition from Other Businesses

Mitigation Plans


When asked about contingency planning, 71.7% of businesses reported having a structured insurance portfolio. However, under half of those surveyed had business continuity plans and only 63.3% had some form of emergency or crisis plan. In addition to this, most businesses did not regularly run through or practise their emergency plans with staff, and some managers could not provide details about their emergency plans other than to say they were aware of their existence. This is a major concern as it highlights how ineffectual many businesses’ emergency plans would likely be in the case of a real crisis.


What makes a business resilient?


Researchers also asked respondents about the factors that contributed to their resilience. Overall, respondents thought leadership and management was the most important factor. This suggests that the drive for resilience is seen to need to come from the top. Ensuring that staff are competent in their roles was ranked the second most important factor in business resilience. This reflects the importance of staff members’ specialty and soft skills in an industry that is heavily dependent on customer satisfaction. Preparedness was ranked third, showing that hospitality businesses in Auckland have an appreciation of the importance of being ready for the unexpected. The overall weighted order of rankings of the resilience factors is given below.


Overall Factor Ranking
1 Leadership and Management How the business is run, and the ability to be responsive and make good decisions
2 Staff Core Competency The capability, work ethics and skills of staff
3 Preparedness Internal framework/schemes to mitigate against the unexpected
4 Market Sensitivity How in touch the business is with market changes and the effects of market changes on the business
5th= Adaptive Ability How well the business adapts in the face of crises/disruptions
5th= Aligned Business Practise Compliance and Regulations
7 Situational Awareness Risk awareness as it pertains to potential effects on the business
8 Leveraging Knowledge Access to and use of information for the benefit of the business
9 Innovation and Diversification New ideas, business models and novel ways to increase revenue
10 Reflective Business Model Regular reflection on business operations and performance to help improve in future
11 Network Robustness Robust supply chain and social capital
12 Access to External Resources Access to funding, materials and external assistance

Business age and staff retention


Generally, the study found that newer hospitality businesses in Auckland were less resilient than older businesses. This was because they were untested to crises, and so had less experience in emergency management. Another factor in business resilience was retention of competent and skilled staff. Staff retention is difficult in the hospitality industry, due in part to foreigners on working holidays, among other things. High staff turnover results in lower skilled staff as newer staff members need time to develop skills, while longer-standing staff are experienced and have a higher capacity to cope with unexpected events.


Photo: Premshree Pillai via Flikr

Improving the resilience of our businesses


Overall, the study found that  effective leadership and management are critical for organisational resilience, along with a number of other factors including staff retention and economic conditions. While many hospitality businesses in Auckland tended to be reasonably resilient, there is significant room for improvement, especially with regards to  planning and risk mitigation. The results of this study give us a good indication of where to focus energy and resources to help build the resilience of businesses in the hospitality industry. For more information about the project, please contact:

Project leader: Dr Alice Chang-Richards, Email:

Research students: James Alach, Email: and Boris Yiu, Email:

Student Profile: Jake McPhee



A Birds Eye View of Disaster Preparedness in Metropolitan Settings




A bit about me 


Having grown up in New Zealand, I developed a healthy infatuation with the unique natural environment which we as New Zealanders enjoy. After completing my undergraduate degree in applied physics, I pursued a career in the field of geophysics. I quickly found that this particular field was distinctly void of any consideration of the societal impacts of its endeavours, a contention which I struggled with greatly. Upon some research, it became clear that the field of disaster management is one situated neatly on the intersection of both the physical and social environments which we as humans all occupy. This space not only appealed to me intellectually and pragmatically, but is also a rapidly developing space which, I believe, requires contemporary societies’ undivided attention. Upon this realisation there was only ever one route for me to travel.

In my free time I do all I can to ensure that I am close to the beach and with any luck, I’ll stumble upon some surf in the process.


My project


In recent weeks I have received confirmation of the successful completion of my Master’s Degree in Disaster Management. My research project aimed to begin developing a set of best practice guidelines for developing levels of disaster preparedness in metropolitan settings. Rather than examining specific initiatives, I focussed on the broader governance structures which facilitate the development and implementation of said initiatives. I did this by conducting a range of interviews with emergency management practitioners in Auckland and San Francisco, two densely populated metropolitan settings with very similar risk profiles and a set of relatively similar socio-cultural dynamics. My research concluded that the nature and structure of the governance frameworks concerned with developing levels of preparedness have significant implications on the effectiveness of preparedness development approaches adopted by relevant authorities.


San Francisco fire department in action on the city’s streets

My research also concluded that a ‘bottom up’ approach which leverages existing community networks is the most effective contemporary approach to developing levels of disaster preparedness in metropolitan settings. However, the starkest finding of this research was the clear lack of theoretical grounding present in the respective efforts of each city to increase preparedness among its residents. Upon the conclusion of the research, a set of recommendations which aim to address the aforementioned findings are made which, if considered, will hopefully steer each city towards best practice in developing levels of preparedness.  Thanks to the diligence and support of my supervisor, Dr. Alice Chang-Richards, I was able  to secure funding which allowed me to travel to San Francisco to undertake this research in person. This meant I could engage with the research on a level which would not have been possible had I conducted my research from a distance. For this I am highly grateful.


Next steps


Upon the completion of my academic studies, I procured a three month consulting contract to the Bay of Plenty Emergency Management Group. I have been tasked with undertaking research which will allow me to provide a set of recommendations for how the group could address the gaps present in their current emergency alerting suite. Moving forward, I am looking to move into the space where international development and emergency management intersect. This is a complex yet fascinating space in which I feel that my recently procured skills could be utilised in a positive manner.



New Zealand Urban Resilience C2C Collaborative & Knowledge Sharing Network



By Mr Elrasheid Elkhidir, Prof Suzanne Wilkinson, Dr Sandeeka Mannakkara

Much of New Zealand’s population lives in our large cities and smaller urban centres (86% in 2006 according to Statistics New Zealand). Natural hazard resilience in these centres is therefore paramount. The Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban Resilience programme has been working to better understand the resilience of our main centres, and improve city resilience.
Auckland city. Photo: Francisco Anzola

The first phase of the project looked at  analysing the state of resilience of the seven biggest cities in New Zealand: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The findings highlighted that our cities varied greatly with regards to urban resilience. The focus and intensity of resilience initiatives and activities differed across the cities, and the extent to which each city had mapped their local hazards varied. Resilience as a strategic direction was not realised in all cities, and generally, some cities could do with a resilience push. A primary reason for the lack of resilience was explained by the researchers as being due to lack of consensus on a unified definition of resilience, coupled with the different perspectives and lenses through which cities viewed resilience. Not having a universal definition of resilience and resilience measurement tools added to the disparity between cities, as did the gaps in awareness and knowledge on the ways to build resilience. The research found that overall some urban centres lacked capacity when it came to building resilience, while others were challenged by the absence of a clear direction. The full report can be found here.

The second phase of the project builds on this information and is focussed on developing a City-to-City (C2C) Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing Network. The network will help our cities collectively achieve urban resilience. Resilience benefits of city-to-city collaborative networks can already be seen in international networks such as the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Network, the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), which were established based on the benefits of sharing knowledge and resources through collaboration.

A collaborative network will enable cities to learn from each other, build capacity, undertake technical co-operation, and share experiences, lessons learned and best practices. Having access to tested resilience solutions from another urban centre can save effort, time and resources for a city that lacks capacity to develop their own resilience initiatives. A network also provides exposure to and prior awareness of other cities’ hazards, stresses and shocks. Knowing other cities’ threats and capacities means that each urban centre can pre-plan for negative spillovers that might occur. In addition, participation in such networks can close the resilience gap for smaller or under-resourced cities as they can acquire the help they need from their peers, and in doing so take pressure off the central government.  


Christchurch. Photo: Jocelyn Kinghorn

Getting started with the project proved challenging. There wasn’t much literature available on  knowledge management and networks sciences related to national-level resilience building, which led the team to undertake a multi-disciplinary literature review. Examining how knowledge networks functioned in other disciplines provided insight and reference. Studying the practices and philosophies of successful international collaborative resilience networks such as the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities created a benchmark for looking at developing a local New Zealand network.

Since the network will be developed for key urban resilience practitioners such as city councils and civil defence groups, we decided to use a co-design approach. The research team is now testing the concept of collaboration amongst the cities. Current successes include having Auckland City Council willing to provide assistance to other local cities. Tauranga, Christchurch, Hamilton and Napier city councils and respective regional civil defence groups are also on-board and interested in the idea of a national network for building resilience.  Christchurch City Council, a member of the 100 Resilient Cities network, is hosting our research team at their Resilience Expo in August to introduce the network and share their insights. Wellington, also part of the  international Resilient 100 Cities Network, provided the research team with an analysis of the risks and shortfalls that we might face during the development stage and functioning of the collaborative network. Local Governments New Zealand, as one of the major stakeholders, has been approached for their  knowledge and frameworks in adopting multi-city collaboration,  and to see if the C2C collaboration could fit under their umbrella organisation.


New Regent Street, Christchurch. Photo: Bernard Spragg

With early stakeholder engagement established, the team is beginning to conduct workshops and interviews across councils and civil defence groups to find out the exact needs, risks, specifications and preferences of the end users.

Our literature and case studies highlighted a number of factors that are crucial to the development and operation of a collaborative and knowledge sharing network. As a nation that faces a wide variety of natural hazards, our unity will be our strength. Collaborating and sharing our knowledge, experiences and resources, will be key in enhancing the overall resilience of Aotearoa.


Student Profile: Sam Wilson





A bit about me 


I am an Auckland local; born and raised. However, I have a passion for getting out of the city for surfing, hiking and motorbiking.

After completing high school, I went on to study civil engineering at The University of Auckland where I focused on structural and fluids disciplines, graduating in 2016. I went through the graduate programme at Aurecon, a design consultancy, and ended up accepting a role at the end of my degree. I moved to Wellington within the Aurecon Resources and Manufacturing team for 2 years. It was a great, supportive environment with big projects and technically brilliant colleagues. The role taught me a lot about engineering consulting, project management and of course technical design.

Safety is a big part of engineering judgement; understanding risk and implementing measures to minimise the hazards people are exposed to. I have always felt driven towards further education and the personal passion of helping people. When I stumbled across the Master of Disaster Management programme it was a perfect match; getting to apply engineering knowledge and helping people in their most vulnerable state.


My project


My project is funded by Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, along with QuakeCore, a Christchurch based agency tasked with improving pre-disaster preparation, gaining knowledge in seismic response, identifying vulnerabilities and providing capacity for rapid earthquake recovery. I am supervised by Dr Alice Chang-Richards at The University of Auckland.

My research project focuses on the recovery of horizontal infrastructure (roads, bridges, buried water lines) and services following seismic events, and is titled Quantification of infrastructure downtime in earthquake reconstruction. Knowing how to rapidly rebuild disaster-damaged infrastructure, while deciding appropriate recovery strategies and catering for future investment is a matter of core interest to government decision makers, utility providers, and business sectors.

The purpose of my research is to find out how decisions and outcomes for physical reconstruction affect the overall recovery process of horizontal infrastructure in New Zealand, using the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes as case studies. I’m taking a mixed approach to data collection which includes a systematic review, questionnaire survey and semi-structured interviews. This is helping me to capture the perspectives of those involved in the reconstruction process and gain insights into the effect of critical elements on infrastructure downtime. Talking to people involved in recovery has been an eye-opening and humbling experience; it’s heart-warming to see how genuine and passionate those involved are about their communities and the role they have played in recovery.   

Findings from my research will contribute towards advancements of a systems dynamics model that uses critical decision-making variables across phases of the reconstruction process to assess how these variables affect the rebuild process and the corresponding downtime.


Next steps


This project will enhance our ability to explore different ways we can improve resilience. It will also test the efficacy of alternative means for facilitating a faster and better reconstruction process. A report will be provided to QuakeCore at the end of the year with further deliverables to follow including a peer reviewed journal article targeting prominent journal publications. I will also be presenting my findings at a QuakeCore conference in September and to Auckland Council. I am hopeful that this project will feed into industry knowledge and improve the efficacy of the decisions made regarding the recovery of infrastructure in New Zealand.

Student Profile: Heiman Dianat



Auckland resilience assesment




A bit about me 


I was born and raised in Sanandaj, a beautiful city in the west of Iran. After completing my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering there, I started working in the construction industry. During this time I became interested and involved in few natural disasters, which lead me to choose to peruse my passion in disaster science. I completed a master’s in project management, which sparked my interest in PhD research.
Outside of my studies I have had a great time living in this beautiful country. I try to be out in nature as much as possible and I wouldn’t change a thing about it!


My project


I am doing my PhD at The University of Auckland under the supervision of Professor Suzanne Wilkinson. My doctoral work examines and tests the United Nations Disaster Resilience Scorecard and New Local Urban Indicators (LUI) for Auckland City. The research assesses Auckland’s disaster resilience based on the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s (UNISDR) Ten Essentials, helping to find the gaps, weakness, and strengths that currently exist. The results from my study will help Auckland Council to set priorities for investment and action, and provide a baseline to monitor and track the city’s resilience progress.

This research project is part of the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban research programme. It is being done in collaboration with Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM), The University of Auckland and the Centre for Disaster Resilience, Recovery, and Reconstruction (CDRRR).

This study is divided into two phases. So far, I have collected the data for the first phase, generated a report from analysis of this data and completed planning for the final phase.



Next steps


We are going to collect data for final phase of the study soon. It will be detailed assessment of Auckland city based on the UNISDR Scorecard. After collecting and analysing this data, I plan to submit my thesis, likely by the end of 2019.

Chaos on campus: Are students and staff at The University of Auckland ready for a natural hazard?



Andreas Neef

How would students and staff of The University of Auckland respond if a major disaster struck the city? 13 postgraduate students set out to answer this question as part of the university’s Development Studies programme. Students formed small teams and conducted interviews and focus groups with their peers, as well as staff members tasked with health and safety procedures at The University of Auckland.

Auckland’s many hazards


New Zealand’s largest city is susceptible to severe weather events, including cyclones and tornadoes. Auckland is also built on an active volcanic field, exposing it to potentially disastrous volcanic eruptions. The city is vulnerable to earthquakes and associated tsunamis to a lesser extent too. In any of these events the risks to human wellbeing could be significant. In a recent example, Auckland has been affected by a string of localised disasters, such as flooding and severe storms which caused widespread power outages and disruption.


The research


With its student and staff body of more than 40,000 people, The University of Auckland (UoA) is one of the largest ‘communities’ in Auckland. But is the university prepared to respond to a catastrophic event, such as a volcanic eruption or a massive earthquake? To determine the level of awareness and preparedness among UoA students and staff, a group of 13 domestic and international students conducted 24 face-to-face interviews with students from diverse ethnic and disciplinary backgrounds, as well as five interviews with health & safety staff. They also convened five focus groups with 14 students and five staff members.


After obtaining ethics clearance from the UoA’s Human Ethics Committee, students received intensive training on qualitative fieldwork methods by the course director, Professor Andreas Neef, and two lecturers, Dr Jesse Hession Grayman and Dr Chanrith Ngin, all from the UoA’s Development Studies programme. Students demonstrated a great deal of creativity in designing flyers, posters and Facebook posts to recruit potential research participants. Six particular groups were addressed in this study: Pākehā students, Māori students, Southeast Asian students, Pasifika students, students with disabilities, and staff members with health & safety responsibilities.


Poster prepared by the Disability team (left) and flyer prepared by the Pasifika Student team (right)


Gathering quality information


Students experimented with different interview styles, ranging from Pacific-style research conversations (talanoa) to more structured types of interviews. One of the students, Caitlin Flannery, interviewed a deaf-mute student with the help of a sign-language interpreter. Amazingly, this interview was one of the richest in terms of information provided. Cailtin said, “For me, this interview was the most challenging, yet most rewarding part of the research process. By breaking down communication barriers through the use of a sign-language interpreter, I was able to gain an invaluable insight into what it’s like to prepare for, and experience disasters, as a deaf-mute student on campus.” All course participants agreed that the fieldwork practicum – albeit challenging in terms of time and social skills required – provided an invaluable opportunity to learn advanced research methods.


Members of the Pasifika student team prepare for a talanoa-style focus group. Photo: Archana Chand

Talanoa is a traditional word used across the Pacific to describe the use of storytelling to share ideas, skills and experience. It allows for participatory, inclusive conversation.


Student preparedness


Most interviewed students reported that they felt relatively safe here in Auckland and that disasters weren’t something they were concerned about or discussed with friends. Yet, they also conceded that they would be completely unprepared in the unlikely event of a major disaster. Although all students were intimately familiar with social media and digital technology, they wouldn’t know how to get relevant information or where to seek shelter and support if a disaster struck.


Staff preparedness


Staff members responsible for health & safety at UoA knew quite well how to respond to a fire incident, but were generally uncertain about what would happen in the event of a major disaster. The UoA’s Crisis Management Team engages directly with external entities like Auckland Emergency Management at the strategic level, however this does not seem to translate into operational procedures. The university’s focus on fire evacuation may not prepare staff well for a natural disaster.




Two students are currently employed as research assistants to further analyse interview transcripts and synthesise the findings provided in individual student reports. We expect to be able to present a research report to the UoA’s leadership team later this year.

Resilience in civil infrastructure firms: What it means and how it can be achieved



By Alice Chang-Richards

Our reliance on critical infrastructures such as power, water, telecommunication, and transportation is obvious during a natural disaster when these services are compromised. Civil infrastructure firms have a significant role to play in assisting with resilience, as in the case of disasters they are tasked with ensuring timely restoration of such services. But just how resilient are these firms themselves to disaster events? Imagine if there weren’t enough contractors available to undertake a much-needed road tunnel project, or to fix water pipes and sewers after an earthquake.

This is a particularly important issue in New Zealand, where unprecedented infrastructure demand has been brought about by population growth and recent earthquakes, creating a rising need for civil infrastructure firms to be resilient. This means that their business should be able to keep up with the demand and continuously provide services whether during business-as-usual or during crises.


Road damage and liquefaction following the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Photo © GNS Science

Measuring for a tailor fit


Following the saying “what gets measured gets done”, the first step to achieving resilience is measuring it. Although generic indicators for measuring the resilience of businesses already exist, the unique nature of civil infrastructure firms calls for specifically tailored resilience indicators.

Researchers from the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban Resilience programme wanted to understand what resilience meant to civil contractors in order to develop a set of resilience indicators for civil infrastructure firms. To do this, they conducted case study interviews with large civil infrastructure firms in New Zealand. They found that contractors generally perceive resilience as “the ability to foresee changes in the market and cope with them”. They also found that resilience in civil infrastructure firms is mainly indicated by sensitivity to market, flexibility and diversification, core competence of staff, robustness of networks, and leadership and management.


Reading and riding the market


The construction sector is highly volatile and, compared to other sectors, more susceptible to ups and downs in the market. As such, contractors regard sensitivity to the market as an important indicator of resilience. Firms must understand what drives the market, and be able to predict changes, including in regulations, competition, and technologies. Consequently, civil infrastructure firms must also be flexible and able to adjust their resources to cope with market cycles, and to provide extra capacity during crises. They must have a diverse set of skills too, allowing them to expand to other markets when the usual markets are down.


Landslides blocking the road and tunnel along the coast north of Kaikōura, triggered by the 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake. Photo © GNS Science/EQC


All about the people: networks, staff, and leaders


Contractors also emphasised the importance of robust social capital, characterised by good supply agreements, and partnerships with other firms that allow them to mix and match capabilities and balance skills. During crises, firms must be able to integrate resources with other organisations to come up with combined solutions. In addition, the construction sector is labour-intensive and as such, it is important for firms to have staff with the right skills, experience and competencies, and to provide them with the right training.

However, the most important indicator was found to be strong leadership and management. Whether during day-to-day operations or crises, leaders are responsible for decision making and directing their firm to achieve its goals. Therefore, a civil infrastructure firm must have strong leaders with a clear vision, who are able to make quick and level-headed decisions even during difficult situations. Importantly, they must foster a company culture that encourages the realisation of its goals.

Other indicators found to be relevant to civil infrastructure firms included aligned business practice, a reflective business model, situational awareness, innovation, the ability to leverage knowledge and information, access to external resources, and preparedness strategies.


No man is an island


Due to interdependencies that exist within and across industries, external factors influence the resilience of civil infrastructure firms too. In particular, contractors mentioned a few issues that the government can address to improve their resilience.

Citing legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 in New Zealand, contractors believed that having a standardised procedure for compliance will improve the resilience of civil infrastructure firms. Procurement was also mentioned as a critical issue, as it can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Contractors suggested that a streamlined procurement system would benefit not only their firms, but the government as well. Moreover, with the rising number of infrastructure projects in New Zealand, firms would need to expand and invest more in human and material resources. However, they need to be guaranteed projects to ensure that their investments are not wasted.

Finally, education and training providers were also found to be key contributors to the resilience of civil infrastructure firms. Contractors mentioned that skill shortages currently experienced by the New Zealand construction sector are threatening their resilience, and this can be addressed by an improved training and education system.


Broken power lines and building rubble after the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Photo © GNS Science

Moving forward


Civil infrastructure firms play a significant role in society, and we need them to be resilient. In this study, researchers identified resilience indicators that can be used to measure the resilience of civil infrastructure firms, as well as external factors that contribute to their resilience. The results provide a baseline for an improved resilience assessment tool by developing more tangible measures for each indicator to quantify the resilience of civil infrastructure firms. This provides an opportunity for civil infrastructure firms to develop management strategies to improve their resilience, and for the government to collaborate with firms in developing guidelines and suitable policies that will help them improve their resilience. In the future, the study could be expanded to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and to other types of businesses in the construction sector such as residential contractors, consultants, and building material suppliers.


For more information, contact:

Project leader: Alice Chang-Richards, Lecturer, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the University of Auckland; Email:

Research student: Marie Claire Pascua, Graduate Masters in Disaster Management, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the University of Auckland;

Church, Community and Beyond: Effective Disaster Risk Communication with and for Pacific People in Auckland



By Jay Marlowe and Andreas Neef

Disaster messaging is only effective if embraced by the population it is intended for. Among Auckland’s Pacific communities characterised by rich cultural and linguistic diversity, there can be numerous challenges to ensuring that disaster risk reduction initiatives reach those that are potentially affected.



Auckland is one of the most ethnically diverse urban environments in the world with more than 200 spoken languages. It also represents the largest Pacific city globally. More than 200,000 Auckland residents identify with a Pacific heritage, representing a range of nationalities that include Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji and various others.


Photo: Yortw via Flikr

Researchers in the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban Resilience team conducted a study with 20 Pacific Island leaders to understand their perspectives of potential natural hazards and possible responses. These leaders articulated both the strengths and potential vulnerabilities that their communities could experience. In particular, we found that there were ‘4Rs’ related to disaster risk communication that map across the traditional 4Rs of readiness, reduction, response and recovery:

  1. Reach – the degree to which any communication strategy will get to the person/group of interest
  2. Relevance – the degree to which any communication is seen as being relevant to the target audience
  3. Receptiveness – the degree to which engagement is culturally resonant
  4. Relationships – the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected

The concepts of reach, relevance, receptiveness and relationships provide a flexible conceptual framework to think through the complexities of delivering effective messaging to Pacific communities. Reach is important to ensure that the communities potentially affected receive the associated message. Once this is achieved, it is necessary that the disasters are of relevance to them. In this sense, social inclusion and empowerment are essential to reduce disaster risks. However, participation and engagement can be more difficult for those who struggle to sustain a daily living, highlighting how everyday inequalities can exacerbate vulnerabilities to disasters. Disaster risk reduction is not just about working with ‘them’ – it requires an engagement with social policies and an awareness that everyday experiences have a powerful influence on the level of relevance extraordinary events have for people struggling with everyday livelihoods.

Provided that the associated message has reach and relevance, it must be delivered in ways that a community is receptive to. This speaks to the importance of inclusive and culturally responsive social spaces and activities (such as churches, schools and community associations) as acceptable sites for delivering support and sharing information.


St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland. Photo: Jason Pratt

An awareness of reach, relevance and receptiveness also requires the recognition of fragmentation and boundaries and therefore a nuanced understanding of relationships. A ‘community’ may not see itself necessarily as one. The ethno-national identifier of Tongan, for instance, may powerfully relate to a number of people in this community but it may not do so for others. The same can be said of leadership – to outsiders it may appear that a community has a clear leader but internal dynamics and politics may present a much more complex picture. Leadership may be defined by traditional social hierarchy (reflecting customary institutions in Pacific Island nations), but it can also exist alongside other identifiers such as economic power, geographic location and even visa status. This highlights the need to pay attention to how leadership in Pacific communities is established and legitimised, but also how it is shifting as younger leaders increasingly want to have their voices heard.


Photo: US Embassy via Flikr

Overall, the study concluded that when designing disaster communication for Pacific communities, it is important to:

  1. Engage with Pacific communities in Auckland when disasters occur in the Pacific: the transnational character of disasters leads to heightened awareness and offers crucial entry points for disaster risk messaging.
  2. Develop a polymedia communication strategy: our study showed that the use of news media and digital technology is influenced by gender, age, and socioeconomic factors. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all communication strategy is bound to fail.
  3. Proactively develop your messages; make these community driven and agency supported: for Pacific communities trust-based personal interaction and respect for cultural protocols are vital to get expert risk information accepted by community leaders and members.

Considering the ways in which reach, relevance, receptiveness and relationships are shaped by particular social contexts can inform disaster risk communication strategies and enhance meaningful public participation in decision-making. It also can go a long way to ensuring that disaster risks are minimised or perhaps removed by ensuring that disaster messaging is trusted and embraced by Pacific communities and other migrant people who identify from a range of social locations where understandings of context are so important.