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Prepared for an earthquake? Yeah, nah.

A survey of Wellington residents revealed that only 15% of respondents had completed more than half of 18 recommended earthquake preparedness actions.

The project, carried out in November 2017 by Victoria University of Wellington PhD students Amanda Wallis (above left) and Lauren Vinnell (right), and funded by Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, collected data from over 700 residents in Wellington City, the Hutt Valley and Porirua.

Vinnell  and Wallis found that storing water was the action completed by the largest proportion of Wellingtonians, but only 55 per cent of respondents had done so.

Half of the respondents had stored food, with 43 per cent having an emergency kit and 37 per cent storing heavy objects in low areas.

Other preparedness actions were taken up by few respondents.

Only 9.7 per cent of people had a water tank, and around 12 per cent had disaster insurance or had strengthened their house’s foundations.

“These findings are worrying for a city with such a long history of identified fault lines,” said Vinnell. Her PhD thesis aims to understand why people in Wellington are and are not preparing, and to use that understanding to get people preparing more.

“My work is targeting the base level – the resilience of individuals. If individuals are better able to survive, respond, and recover in a disaster, then communities and cities will have a better chance at doing the same.”

The main reason actions were not taken, was because people simply hadn’t thought about it (the most cited barrier for 11 out of the 18 actions).

The reason respondents hadn’t taken a further five of the actions was that they hadn’t got around to it.

Cost was only considered to be a barrier for two of the 18 actions (purchasing a water tank and getting disaster insurance).

Complacency is also an issue, says Vinnell.

“It’s easy to look at these percentages and think ‘at least I’ve done something, that’s more than a lot of people’, and not worry about doing anything else. It’s important to do as much as you possibly can to prepare, regardless of what other people have or haven’t done.”

Compared to the rest of the country, however, Wellington is considered by civil defence authorities to be a relatively well-prepared city.

“While the findings from 2017 were not as good as they could be, the good news is that the total number of people taking action to prepare themselves is increasing each year,” says Jeremy Holmes, Regional Manager for the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO).

“We know that even small steps taken in advance of an emergency can go a long way in a real-life event, so we are constantly urging people to do as much as possible to be prepared. Even if you haven’t thought about getting prepared before now, basic preparation doesn’t need to be time consuming and there are easy things you can do right now to increase your level of preparedness.”

“One of the simplest and most important things you can do is to have a conversation with your family or flatmates about what you would do in an emergency if you couldn’t contact each other. You can also use our website to see if you are in a tsunami zone and discuss the route you would walk to evacuate.”

“Since this survey was carried out at the end of 2017, we have delivered our Earthquake Planning Guide to every household in the Wellington region. The Guide takes you through the different steps to help you prepare for an earthquake and is now available in 15 different languages to make it easier for those for whom English may not be their first language.”

To request a copy of the Earthquake Planning Guide or find out about how to prepare for an earthquake – including checking if you live or work in a tsunami zone – go to the Get Prepared website.

Resilience to Nature’s Challenges is one of eleven MBIE funded National Science Challenges that are increasing the resilience of Aotearoa New Zealand by developing new scientific solutions to transform our response and recovery from a wide range of natural hazards.