Nikki Kaye: Is Auckland overdue for the big one?

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to open this forum on managing volcanic risk in Auckland.

I am very pleased to be here. It’s great to see so many people taking this opportunity to increase and share their knowledge about volcanic risk in Auckland, and the plans that are in place in the event of an eruption.

I would like to acknowledge Auckland Council Chief Executive, Doug Mackay; and Clive Manley and Michael Goudie, from Auckland CDEM. I also want to acknowledge the many scientists and volcanologists who are with us here today.

I want to acknowledge John Hamilton, the Director of the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management. You have already been acknowledged for your role in Canterbury, but I want to publicly acknowledge you for the excellent job you and your team at MCDEM do. I appreciate your calm temperament, particularly in light of the fact that since I’ve become Minister, we’ve had tsunami warnings, major storm events, and the worst earthquakes felt in Wellington for decades.

Thank you to the Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management group and the Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland (DeVoRA) research programme for organising this event.

This forum brings together the science and research behind our understanding of Auckland’s volcanic field and those responsible for thinking through and planning our response.

Research and monitoring

Some of Auckland’s most prominent natural landmarks, including Mount Eden, Rangitoto Island and One Tree Hill, serve as a visual reminder of previous volcanic activity in the area.

It is worth noting that the most recent eruption was Rangitoto, which occurred approximately 550 years ago. And there can be thousands of years between volcanic events.

We cannot prevent an eruption, or predict exactly when one might occur. However, through research and monitoring of Auckland’s volcanic field, and comprehensive contingency planning for an event, we can mitigate the risk.

Science plays a critical role in preparing for natural disasters in a country like ours, which is susceptible to a number of risks.

GNS Science plays an important role in monitoring the Auckland volcanic field, which covers the entire width of the Auckland isthmus, and extends beneath the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. There are 11 seismic monitoring sites set up around the field.

In the event of an eruption, volcanic and aviation risk around New Zealand would also be published on the GeoNet website.

International disaster risk reduction

Briefly, I would like to touch on where we fit in internationally in terms of disaster risk reduction. Earlier this year went to the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland.

I am pleased to say that our approach to disaster risk reduction is internationally regarded because of our good science and ability to plan, which is our focus here today.

The value of what we contributed to small Pacific Islands was also highlighted in Geneva, and I would like to acknowledge our input into supporting monitoring volcanoes in the South Pacific region. I know that some of you here have been involved in that work, and I am grateful for your continued involvement.

Our aid programmes have funded projects in Vanuatu which has six active volcanoes; and we are part of other networks in the region. The volcanic mapping and work on alert systems is about saving future lives for a small island nation. Our country has a lot to offer these small island states, given our similar hazard profile.

Volcanic risk in Auckland

But we are here today to discuss the work being done in Auckland.

Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland, or DeVoRA, is researching the geological nature of the Auckland Volcanic Field, as well as the potential hazards and societal impacts of an eruption.

DeVoRA is a research programme funded by a number of groups, including the Auckland Council, the Earthquake Commission (EQC), GNS Science, the University of Auckland, and Massey University. The programmed was launched in 2008 and will run for seven years.

This morning you will hear about the work DeVoRA has been doing over the last five years to increase our knowledge about the volcanic field. This will provide a backdrop for this afternoon’s session about our preparedness for a volcanic event.

The programme aims to improve volcanic hazard and risk assessment in Auckland. Crucially, the research is being incorporated into Auckland’s Volcanic Contingency Plan.

Impact of a volcanic eruption in Auckland

If a volcanic eruption happened in Auckland it would have a significant impact on the entire country. The potential impact of ash and dust and the disruption to flights could be devastating to the Auckland economy

That is powerful in terms of the fact that Auckland is our largest city and is the economic powerhouse for the country. Auckland contributes 35 per cent to our GDP and is a major international gateway for air, freight and communications.

It is also powerful when we consider that with more than 1.5 million people – a third of New Zealand’s population – living in Auckland, if volcanic activity occurred, it could mean the evacuation of significant groups of people.

If we look at possible effects on Auckland these could include the devastation of buildings and infrastructure, large economic losses, a reduction in air and rail services, disruption to vital lifeline services, and increased health risks from ash and dust.

Given these potential impacts, it is very important that adequate planning in terms of response and recovery is undertaken and that central and local government work in partnership on this.

We are fortunate that one of the benefits of Auckland’s local government reform is that it has enabled us to have one plan in terms of Civil Defence Emergency Management planning. Being able to pull resources together for a whole of Auckland approach is hugely beneficial.

In terms of specific planning, I know that a lot of work has been done preparing the Auckland Volcanic Field Contingency Plan. Many of the people here in this room today will have an important role to play in the event of an eruption.

I am pleased with how comprehensive the Contingency Plan is, and I think it is important that you are looking at it this afternoon.

It is also useful that it will be updated annually for the first five years, to reflect the very research that is being discussed here today, and to incorporate any changes in the CDEM sector.

I am also pleased to note the emphasis that the Contingency Plan places on the provision of timely and accurate warnings. You may be aware of my priority to investigate the use of cell broadcasting and new public alerting technologies.

I know you will hear today about the use of mobile technology and social media in alerting communities and this is an area I am very interested in. We need as many communication channels as are available when we face major emergencies as there will be times when one, or many, of these channels may not work.

Preparedness in Auckland

This forum provides an opportunity to discuss our preparedness as a nation and as a city.

Research shows us that there has been improvement in preparedness for a civil defence emergency. But there is still room for improvement when just 17 per cent of all New Zealand residents are fully prepared for an emergency and 32 per cent are prepared for an emergency when at home – with a plan, survival items and water.

We know that part of reason for that is our famous Kiwi “she’ll be right” attitude.

We also know that the population groups most at risk are Auckland residents, younger New Zealanders, people new to the country, and people of Asian ethnicity. The fact that Auckland has so many of these less-prepared groups makes Auckland quite vulnerable, and means we must work harder to address these issues.

The DeVoRa research programme, as I’ve said, makes for better planning for the possible effects of an eruption, and how we can best manage these effects.

This week is of course Civil Defence Emergency Management’s Get Ready Week. This is part of the public education programme to encourage people to be responsible for their own preparedness including having emergency kits and plans for work and home.

Clearly we need to do more to encourage young New Zealanders. That is why I was pleased to announce this week a national programme that will see 90 young New Zealanders volunteer this year with emergency services including Civil Defence Emergency Management.

This will both strengthen the awareness of young people about the role of Civil Defence Emergency Management and the importance of being prepared; and strengthen the communities they live in.

It’s important that we don’t underestimate the role of our education system in ensuring that young New Zealanders understand natural hazards and risks.

What’s the Plan Stan? resources in our schools are also important for ensuring young people have an understanding of what to do in an emergency.

But again, the type of work being done and discussed here today, to improve volcanic hazard and risk assessment in Auckland, adds real value to the message of preparedness, by providing information on the potential impact of an eruption.


In conclusion, I know that the ideas and discussions that come out of this forum, and the on-going research and contingency planning, will prove hugely beneficial in the event of a volcanic eruption in Auckland.

You all have an important part to play, and the work you do, although it often sits in the background, has the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of many New Zealanders.

It is great to see Auckland leading the world in good science, research, planning and local government structure to enable us to prepare for and respond to whatever nature might throw at us.

Your collaboration, and the varied programme you have today, shows that your planning takes into consideration all four Rs of New Zealand’s integrated approach to civil defence emergency management: reduction, readiness, response and recovery. This is great to see.

I commend you and your teams for your on-going work and commitment to ensuring our communities are ready in the face of an emergency.

Our country has experienced unexpected in natural disasters. Canterbury was not expected, though as a result, our science and research has improved. The earthquakes felt in Marlborough and Wellington over the past few months have heightened our awareness further.

We must plan, therefore, for an eruption at any time. This is not about creating fear. It’s about taking responsibility, particularly for the people of Auckland who live in a volcanic field. It is the responsibility of central and local government to both understand and plan our city accordingly. So while we can’t control when or if an eruption happens, we can do our best to build and plan a city that is safer and more resilient.

It gives me great pleasure to declare the forum open