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Project to focus on Quakes in the Wellington region - 11/12/2006

A major research project is underway to improve the understanding of the vulnerability of the Wellington region to large earthquakes.

The aim of the seven-year, $3.5 million project is to better define Wellington’s earthquake risk using the latest geological techniques and sophisticated computer modelling. It was launched today by the Mayor of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast, at a function at Te Papa.

The information provided by the project, called ‘It’s Our Fault’, will help Wellington become better prepared for and safer from earthquakes.

It will do this by enabling better decision making to protect assets and reduce potential casualties.

Government-owned research and consultancy company GNS Science will lead the project, which will involve collaboration with a number of public and private sector organisations. Financial support is coming from the Earthquake Commission, the Accident Compensation Corporation, Wellington City Council, and Greater Wellington.

The Wellington region has four major active faults and a number of second-order faults, including some in Cook Strait, all of which are capable of producing a damaging earthquake.

The project will improve knowledge of the individual faults, and also the way they interact with each other. A large earthquake on one fault may advance or retard earthquakes on neighbouring faults. But the extent of this effect is not well understood at present.

There are four main strands to the research – the likelihood and frequency of large earthquakes, the expected size, the physical effects, and the social and economic impacts. There are knowledge gaps in all these areas.

Mayor Prendergast said the project was a step forward in understanding better the risk to Wellington and Wellingtonians from earthquakes.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when, and the more we know about earthquakes and the impact a major earthquake would have on our city, the better prepared Wellington can be,’’ she said.

Wellington faults

Three of the main active faults in Wellington that will be investigated as part of the 'It's Our Fault' project.

GNS Science Chief Executive, Alex Malahoff, said the name of the project was an acknowledgement that earthquakes were a community issue and not the preserve of scientists and civil defence organisations.

“ It will provide an unprecedented amount of information on the earthquake risk in the Wellington region, which is particularly vulnerable because of its geography and its location on a major faultline,” Dr Malahoff said.

“ The project is designed so that the information can be taken up readily and used in civil engineering, infrastructure planning, emergency management, and the insurance industry.”

The Earthquake Commission’s General Manager David Middleton said the research was needed because not enough was known about the risk of earthquake occurrence in the Wellington region.

“It is important that conventional wisdom is not allowed to crowd out scientific advances. The better our understanding of the hazards we face, the better equipped we can become to deal with them,” Mr Middleton said.

“As a scientific project, the collaboration GNS Science has achieved among disciplines and different organisations is an exciting aspect that promises much for the future of geological research in New Zealand.”

Richard Geisler, Manager, Stakeholder & Customer Relationships of ACC said it was hoped the project would help in understanding the number and types of injuries that a major earthquake in Wellington would cause.

“ That will help us and the health services be prepared. This research might also help inform decisions about what forms of injury prevention work are most appropriate.”