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Preparing New Zealand for natural disasters - 07/08/2006

A new research centre established by Massey University and Crown Research Institute, GNS Science, aims to prepare New Zealand better for natural disasters.

Disaster centre opening

Based at the School of Psychology at Massey’s Wellington campus, the Joint Centre for Disaster Research will concentrate the skills of psychologists, sociologists, planners, geologists, risk assessors, Maori researchers, and economists from both organisations.

GNS Science Chief Executive, Alex Malahoff, said New Zealand’s vulnerability to natural hazards was the main imperative for setting up the Centre, the only one of its type in New Zealand.

“ It will help to ensure that there is a winning team to serve New Zealand with GNS Science’s natural hazards research integrated with Massey’s work on preparedness and reaction to disasters.

‘‘Recent events in Indonesia and New Orleans provide strong evidence for the relevance of bringing a focus to this area where the physical and social sciences intersect.”

Dr Malahoff said New Zealand had been spared the pain of a significant ‘mass casualty’ natural disaster since the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, which resulted in 256 deaths. He said there was a degree of complacency about natural hazards and, as a result, many people did not fully appreciate the devastation that such events could cause.

The Pro Vice-Chancellor of Massey’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Barrie Macdonald, said the centre will concentrate the expertise of both organisations.

“ This is a valuable partnership that will draw on the University’s established strengths in natural hazard planning. It will boost long-term projects such as our research on volcanic activity in the North Island and the building of communities that are more resilient to natural disasters.”

Professor Macdonald said the benefits of the Centre include improved support for risk reduction activities, and a better understanding of how to recover from natural disasters. Centre staff would also work with a range of agencies to improve New Zealand’s capabilities to respond to natural disasters.

Centre staff will teach at a post-graduate level, conduct research, and undertake commercial work for clients in New Zealand. The Centre’s post-graduate courses will complement those taught at an undergraduate level.