New Zealand Tsunami Warning System On Close Up

Tsunami Threat To New Zealand

The threat of a big tsunami hitting the East Coast of New Zealand is something which could easily become a reality. New Zealand is fourth on the list of countries at risk of tsunami. Japan is first.

New Zealand has a similar kind of oceanscape to Japan, with a fragile belt of sea floor which is only about 100 kilometres from the the coastline, according to the scientist on Close Up. This gives us a similar risk of an enormous tsunami happening here, if the bed of sea floor on this vulnerable belt were to move.


Last night on Close Up, 28 March 2011, hosted by Mark Sainsbury, we were given some insights into how New Zealand might be affected if a tsunami struck here.

For a start, we learned that the siren system which we might have imagined was controlled by the one body, the Civil Defence perhaps, does not actually exist as a co-ordinated alarm system.

Mark questioned a scientist about this (will supply his name later – this info is at home, and I am at the library). It was made clear that each council really is responsible for its own warning systems. Our system is not co-ordinated so that sirens will go off up and down the country, as it did in Japan, if a tsunami warning is issued.

The other problem is that our main centre for alert is in Lower Hutt (is this Civil Defence?) and Lower Hutt itself is in the danger zone for earthquake as well as tsunami. So it is possible that the telecommunications from there could be completely cut out in the event of an earthquake, with fire, or a tsunami which comes quickly after an earthquake. This would mean that the rest of New Zealand might not have any idea about the events down there, or that a tsunami was on its way, if the communication facilities had collapsed already.

There is a back-up system at Wairakei, apparently, but we were told by the scientist that this is not staffed for 24 hours a day. If a tsunami was on its way, the Lower Hutt outfit was out of action due to earthquake/fire, and it was night time, chances are that this Wairakei monitor might not be any use to us.

New Zealand is a small country of only around 4 million people, and it cannot afford a sophisticated system such as the Japanese have – one system controlled by one body which covers the whole of Japan. Even with such a smooth and efficient system, with the tsunami coming so soon after the earthquake, many people along the East Coast of Japan had only five minutes or so to leave the area. This just was not enough time, but, really, no technology could have made the situation any better to save all those lives. It all happened so quickly, and with such force, the inevitable happened despite the loud siren warnings in all towns.

The best advice coming from Mark’s Close Up programme which discussed tsunami risk to New Zealanders, was this:

IF AN EARTHQUAKE STRIKES, and you live on the coastline, then you should take to the hills IMMEDIATELY.

If the earthquake lasts longer than a minute, or it is short but a huge jolt, then YOU NEED TO ACT RIGHT AWAY. Don’t hesitate. You might have only minutes to get away.


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