Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Civil Defence vs Emergency Management

Just been reading the latest issue of Impact. There's an interesting article in the back about the results of the National Colmar Brunton CDEM Survey which was conducted in June 2009, and its follow-up. Some focus groups in Canterbury were asked about the Civil Defence branding and concept, with some interesting responses.

Personally, I'd love to get rid of "civil defence" as a term, and replace it with "emergency management" and "community resilience" and so on. Civil defence is a concept that is so very Dad's Army, and doesn't match up with the modern principals of emergency management, and actually reinforces the misconception that "someone else" will come to the rescue. The responses mentioned in the article only reinforce that for me.

Civil Defence Logo

"The civil defence logo clearly gives the community a degree of comfort and a feeling of safety - perhaps more than would be ideal when the objective is
to encourage and enable community self help and resilience."
Many still think the civil defence army will come and save them on day three of the disaster - some kind of significant organised response (plastered with CD logos, obviously). Um... what army would that be then? Where can I find them? Do they live in the bunker under the Beehive? In cold storage? I'd really love to be able to pull an army out of the cupboard when required, but I can't use what isn't there.

Thankfully, the younger generations seem to have a better understanding of the realities of the situation, and have a higher expectation that they are going to have to look after themselves, and work with other people in their community to help sort things out. They seem to get that there is no mystical army, they get that they are it. If you are looking for your rescuers, look in the mirror, look in the next room, and next door, look around you in church, or at the corner store. That's where you'll find them, they are you, your family and your community. We're just here to help you do your thing.

"Interestingly, there were some younger participants who suggested the brand should be retained only to ensure older members of the community, who had grown up with it, did not feel less secure. These responses indicated a degree of social awareness that some may find surprising, but also an insight into the impact that the civil defence brand may actually have on fostering preparedness and resilience."

So, what do you think? What does civil defence mean to you? Does it give the wrong message? What does emergency management mean to you? Do they mean different things?

Quotes from Survey reveals community perceptions: Impact, Vol 36, December 2009, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, page 11.


Woo! Felt that one. Just waiting for the stats on it from GNS, will update as soon as I have them. Must be quite local.

EDIT: Yup, quite local - 10km northwest of Porirua!

The following earthquake has been recorded by GNS:
Reference number: 3212649/G
Universal Time: 2009/12/22 19:09:56
Local time (NZDT): 08:09 AM on Wednesday 23 December 2009
Latitude, Longitude: 41.04S, 174.73E
NZ Map Grid (E, N): 2655000, 6018000
NZ Trans Merc (E, N): 1745000, 5456000
Location: 10 km north-west of Porirua
Focal depth: 50
Magnitude: 4.3
Web page:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Discovering what it's like to be stuck at school

On Thursday last week, a class of 11 & 12-year-old kids from Discovery School in Whitby got a taste of what it would be like to be stuck at school after a major event like an earthquake.

In the week prior I got a few calls from the pupils asking if I could come in and talk to them about emergency stuff during their earthquake simulation day on Friday 11 December. They were going to spend the whole day and overnight at the school living like they would in an emergency. Awesome, I'm in!

However, their teacher, Mr McManaway, had been very sneaky, and gotten to me first. So, in collaboration with the parents, we sprung it all on them a day early! It would hardly be a realistic exercise if the kids have a sleeping bag, a tent, and dinner for four tucked away in their school bag, would it?

10am on the Thursday an earthquake struck while the kids were at phys-ed. The sound system played the realistic rumbles and crashes of an earthquake while the kids dropped, covered and held. Once the aftershocks stopped (the track got stuck on repeat...), we all made our way back to their classroom, and they discovered the wreckage.

Tables upended, bookshelves toppled, possessions strewn across the room, tree branches through the windows, "broken glass" everywhere. Total carnage! It took a good while to get it cleaned up and made liveable again. Because living there was what they were going to have to do - possibly until Saturday morning, which, as far as the kids knew, was when their parents were going to pick them up.

Once they had things tidy, we took stock of the situation. I gave them the run-down on what was expected of the school in such situations, and we all discussed where their parents worked, how long it was likely to take them to get to the school and so on. We had a look at the emergency supplies that were available, and thought about how to ration those. Some kids hadn't had any breakfast, and some had planned to buy lunch so didn't have any food with them at all. There were presentations on emergency food and water, and how to dispose of sewerage in an emergency.

A bit before lunchtime we headed over to the library to discover that the earthquake had affected it as well, and there were injured kids inside who needed their help. I was well impressed by their first aid skills.

I had to head off around lunch time for another meeting, and when I left the kids were still under the impression that they were going to have to use a bucket for a toilet.

I got back shortly after 5pm, and the kids were still being kids, and the teacher was looking slightly frazzled, but nobody had gone cannibal yet. The emergency survival food was dug out for dinner and consumed with varying degrees of enthusiasm. We then sat down to watch the show that screened after Aftershock - the one about the family surviving for three days on their emergency stuff. We thought the kids were probably a bit young to inflict the full movie on them.

The next plan was to sort out all the sleeping arrangements. The kids spent a goodly while building forts and tents out of the available furniture before we decided that, since we had a perfectly intact roof, the curtains would be more use as blankets rather than tents. Some interesting "debates" about group versus individual needs.

The kids had pretty well bedded down for the night by the time I headed off arounf 9:15pm. Their parents were scheduled to pick them up at 10:30, so they could go home to their real beds, and be vaguely functional human beings for school the next day.

A really interesting day!

How's your back-up plan coming along?

Many Telecom XT customers have been left hanging today, with "an unplanned restart" of Telecom's Christchurch XT Mobile RNC switch (whatever that is), which resulted in the majority of XT cell sites south of Taupo not operating from around 6am.

So, how'd you fare without your precious cellphone? Did business grind to a halt? How much money did you not make today because of that simple little disruption?

There is no guarrantee of service, even at the best of times, so have you thought about how your business can carry on functioning without the cellphones working? How about if none of the phones are working? Or if the power goes out? Or if your computer network goes down for the whole day? How are you going to do your job? Have a think. And if there isn't a way to do your job without these things, have enough insurance to cover your losses during such times.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Severe Weather Watch - heavy rain & strong winds

A severe weather watch has been issued by the MetService for heavy rain affecting the Tararuas and possible severe northwest gales for Wairarapa and Wellington - Friday evening to mid-Saturday.

Missed it

Another quake off the Kapiti Coast - 4.1, 40km down and 40km northwest of Otaki. I was even in Kapiti at the time, and didn't feel a thing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rangikura School

Spent an entertaining afternoon at Rangikura School. They've just completed their classes on emergency preparedness, and spent the whole day outside, making emergency shelters, living off bottled water and cold tinned food, practicing first aid and making improvised stretchers. Some of the shelters were better than others, some were really quite impressive and stood up well to today's winds and even some rain, some less so - but it was a great test of the kids' common sense and practicality. Well done! Awesome bunch of kids. We'll definitely be back when they do it again next year.

Movers & shakers

The last Regional Welfare Advisory Group meeting was somewhat interrupted by the Samoan tsunami, and then this morning's meeting was interrupted by a 5.1 quake near Otaki! I'm pretty sure it's been minuted that we should schedule meetings for when there aren't any events, please, thanks.

Don't forget to lodge a report if you felt it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cloud burst!

Now that was a sudden downpour! The weather radar looks remarkably patchy, but the bits that do show up indicate quite heavy rain.

Take care while driving out there - heavy rain like that can make driving conditions pretty hairy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

State Highway 2 closed at Te Marua Lakes

Not exactly Porirua's turf, but regionally significant.

A large slip has blocked the southbound lane of State Highway 2 next to the Te Marua Lakes in Upper Hutt. The danger of more slips is high, so the road has been closed entirely.

Absolutely no idea how long it will take to clear - they have to wait until it's stabilised enough for the contractors to begin clearing it safely.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More rain

The forecast downpours for Saturday didn't arrive, though it was still pretty soggy - it was a good day to stay inside playing Guitar Hero, and watching DVDs.

MetService has issued another heavy rain warning, but this one mostly applies to the Tararua Ranges for today and tomorrow - might want to leave off the hiking over the next couple of days. Hopefully it all clears up by Thursday, I'm off camping!

ISSUED BY MetService AT 09:32 am 30-Nov-2009


Rain is already falling, and is expected to be heavy at times during today and Tuesday. In the 36 hours from midday Monday to midnight Tuesday, 100 to 140mm of rain is possible, with rainfall intensities of 15 to 20mm per hour possible in thunderstorms. Note, heavy rain is possible into Wednesday as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Batten down the hatches - there's a storm blowing in

After a couple of days of gorgeous weather, we can now expect it to turn to very soggy custard.

MetService has issued a Severe Weather Warning for heavy rain for the urban areas of the Wellington region for tomorrow, with 40-50mm expected in a 3-6 hour period some time between 8am and 8pm Saturday morning. That kind of rainfall may cause similar surface flooding and slips to the last lot that cut off all access north of Porirua at the end of July.

Also expecting strong northwest winds tonight - up to gale force, possible even severe gales.

Might just be a good day to stay home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Was that the wind?

Apparently there was an earthquake 20km west of Porirua yesterday evening at 6:49pm. 40km down and measuring 3.7. I'm not sure many people would have distinguished it from the wind shaking the house. I certainly didn't.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More quakes - didn't feel a thing

Woke up to the news on the radio that there had been an earthquake in the central North Island. Hadn't felt a thing, neither had my cat who woke up at the same time I did. Then my phone went bingley-beep to give me the information - 7:04am, 5.1, 10km south of Palmerston North, at a depth of 40 km - sounds like it would be a doozie, but I'd slept right through it.

It was followed up by a 4.3 aftershock an hour later at 8:05am, roughly the same location and depth - I didn't feel that one either (not because I was asleep).

If you did feel the quakes, don't forget to fill in a Felt Earthquake report.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More wind

It's already rather windy in Porirua today, but the MetService has given us a Severe Weather Watch for strong winds for tomorrow.
There could be a spell of severe northwest gales about the hilltops of Wellington and exposed areas of Wairarapa on Sunday. Forecasters will maintain a watch in the meantime. There is the potential for damage to trees, powerlines and insecure roofs and driving conditions could be hazardous for motorcylists and high sided vehicles.
EDIT: Watch has been uprgaded to a warning for severe gales through to Sunday evening - gusting to 120km/h in exposed places.

Exercise Phoenix

Thursday and Friday was taken up with Exercise Phoenix - the Wellington region-wide annual exercise, based on a 7.6 earthquake centred in Petone. Two exhausting days - my throat was sore from talking so much, and we were really quite braindead by end of play on Friday afternoon - a good illustration of the need for regular shift changes. Exercising is really important to us since (thankfully) we don't get that many real events to keep ourselves in practice. We always find something to improve on, streamline, simplify, more training required, so while the exercise is over for many of our particpants (thanks team!), we come away with a long list of things to do for next time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wind on the way

Wednesday looks to be a bit breezy with a Severe Weather Watch from the Metservice for severe gales in exposed parts of Wellington & Wairarapa - mid-morning through to early afternoon. We should all be pretty used to strong winds around here, and remember that winds like these have the potential to damage trees and powerlines and make driving hazardous - especiall in high-sided vehicles.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And again

Found out this morning that I was going to be on the radio again, this morning - Porirua's own Hollah FM! Sorry I didn't get time to give you any warning so you could listen in - but in the emergency management field we have to get used to doing things with little or no warning...

At least I can give you some warning about more bad weather on the way.

A special weather advisory for a cold snap, bringing snow to about 500m - probably causing problems on the Rimutaka Hill Road. The cold temperatures and the strong southerly wind are going to be pretty nasty for stock, so farmers are advised to move the cute baby animals to somewhere sheltered.

What the hell happened to spring??

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the radio again

Thanks to Samoa Capital Radio for hosting and translating for me this morning. If you missed the interview and are in Porirua, and speak Samoan, you can catch it on Hollah FM (106.7FM) tomorrow. Sorry, don't know the time - whenever their Samoan language section is on!

Friday, October 16, 2009

California Shake Out

We're not the only one's doing something during Disaster Awareness Week, I only wish we had the resources to do something on this scale -

7 million people signed up to take part in the exercise. 7 million!

Bit soggy

Surprising amount of rain overnight & this morning. The Porirua Stream is well up, and Grays Road ended up closed for a brief while due to flooding, and there was surface flooding & some manholes lifting around the city. Fortunately the rain has eased for now, though there's still a weather watch for more showers today and possibly heavy rain tomorrow - since the ground is already soggy from this morning's rain, surface flooding & slips are more likely.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Disaster Awareness Week 2009

Just in case you weren't aware enough - it's Disaster Awareness Week!

Disaster Awareness Week runs nationally to coincide with the International Disaster Reduction Day on the second Wednesday of October - this Wednesday, 14 October.

You may have heard the ads on the radio already - Wherever you are right now, are you ready?
There are also ads showing on TV.

After the past few weeks' events, I reckon the residents of Porirua are much more aware than they used to be, but to help push the message home, we're working with Porirua New World (who you'll be very pleased to know contacted us during the tsunami alert on the 30th of September to see if they needed to put their Civil Defence plan into action) with a display table of important information, and survival items around the store will be highlighted. We'll also be giving away eco-shopping bags - they have a checklist on them of some of the things you should have for your survival kit - a good reminder when you're out doing the shopping.

If you are after containers to store emergency water in, you can stop by at our main council reception desk in Cobham Court. The big yellow containers are $15 each and hold 15 litres of water - they're a bit easier to stack than old fizzy & juice bottles - takes up less room in the cupboard.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quaking in my boots, well, my beanbag...

I wonder where that one was centred? Definitely felt it! Interrupted the Xbox game I was playing, now I have to go back to where I last saved.

I'm guessing a 5 point something, somewhere round Taranaki. Still haven't got a quake report from GNS yet. I'll update when I do.

EDIT: Nope, got that wrong - 4.8 located 20km northwest of Wellington, 40km down.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Severe weather warning - heavy rain & strong winds

Lotsa rain for today - expected to be especially heavy between 7 and 10pm tonight. South west winds rising to gale force this evening.

Great way to start the weekend.... not...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Latest Vanuatu quake no threat to NZ

I'm really rather paranoid about checking my phone every time it beeps at the moment. Sometimes it's the flatmate asking if I'll be home for dinner, and other times I see the dreaded first line of "National Advisory..."

Fortunately this evening it was followed by "CDEM event - no threat to NZ"

Here's the media release:
There is no tsunami risk to New Zealand from the 7.0 earthquake that occurred near the Vanuatu Islands today at 21:29HRS.
The Director of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, John Hamilton, said that the Ministry has received information about the earthquake from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii and GNS Science in New Zealand.

An assessment of the information by New Zealand tsunami experts confirms there is no tsunami risk to New Zealand.

And now I shall go to sleep, no doubt to dream of my cellphone constantly beeping to warn of impending doom...

Twittering too

Just in case you haven't spotted it amongst the links, I've also set up a Twitter account for poriruaEMO. It's sometimes surprisingly hard to fit an update into 140 characters... especially since I loathe txt-speak.


Cancellation of Potential Tsunami Threat Advisory

Based on an assessment of the Tsunami activity experienced up to now, we can now cancel the Potential Threat Advisory. However the public should remain cautious of continuing strong currents for the rest of the day and early evening. Currents may be particulary strong between Hokitika and Karamea.

Mana Cruising Club & Plimmerton Boating Club will be advising boaters to stay on shore until tomorrow.

Waves arriving - latest update from Ministry

The first waves are now arriving and will be very small, however, it is expected that, in most areas, the largest waves will not arrive until many hours after the first arrivals. The threat assessment for New Zealand remains as previously indicated; these waves will not be destructive, but have the potential to create strong currents. Our advice remains for people on the West Coast from North Cape to Hokitika and on the East Coast from North Cape to Auckland to use extreme caution on beaches and stay out of the water as well as refrain from boating activities. For other areas people should be vigilant around coastal areas.

Areas that are particularly prone to late arriving waves are the West Coast of the South Island between Hokitika and Karamea, and the Northland region of the North Island. Strong currents may not have peaked before 8pm.

MCDEM will continue its potential threat advisories until the threat has passed.

Next update from the Ministry

Potential Tsunami Threat to New Zealand

The National Advisory- Potential Threat for New Zealand remains in force, and represents the official status for New Zealand.

The threat assessment as provided earlier remains. It is not expected to be destructive for New Zealand however we still advise people on the West Coast from North Cape to Hokitika and on the East Coast from North Cape to Auckland to use extreme caution on beaches and stay out of the water. For other areas people should be vigilant around coastal areas.

Effective immediately, strong currents associated with the arrival of the tsunami will begin to affect New Zealand coastal waters, with a peak not expected until at least 8pm. Areas that are particularly prone to late strong currents are the west coast of the South Island, between Hokitika and Karamea, and the Northland region of the North Island.

Further update

Potential Tsunami Threat to New Zealand - Update

The National Advisory- Potential Threat for New Zealand remains in force, and represents the official status for New Zealand. This is in spite of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, who has cancelled their warning for New Zealand.

The threat assessment as provided earlier remains. It is not expected to be destructive for New Zealand, however, we still advise people on the West Coast from Northcape to Hokitika, and on the East Coast from Northcape to Auckland to stay clear of beaches and out of the water, as well as refrain from boating activities due to expected strong currents until a cancellation is issued. For other areas people should be vigilant around coastal areas.

The official source of information is the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

EDIT: 14:25 It is expected that in most areas the largest waves will not arrive until many hours after the first arrivals. Areas that are particularly prone to late arriving waves are the West Coast of the South Island between Hokitika and Karamea, and the Northland region of the North Island. Waves may not have peaked before 8pm.

Potential Tsunami Threat to New Zealand - Update

A Tsunami measuring 0.04 metres (4cm) has been recorded near Vanuatu. The threat assessment for New Zealand however remains as previously indicated; it is not expected to be destructive for New Zealand however we still advise people on the West Coast from Northcape to Hokitika and on the East Coast from Northcape to Auckland to stay clear of beaches and out of the water as well as refrain from boating activities due to expected strong currents until a cancellation is issued. For other areas people should be vigilant around coastal areas.

The Pacfic Tsunami Warning Centre has upgraded New Zealand into a warning position in its latest bulletin (#2). This warning status does not apply to New Zealand. The official status for New Zealand remains National Advisory - Potential Threat.

Tsunami Advisory - yes, another one!

National advisory - Tsunami - Potential threat to NZ.

Provisional ETA for Wellington - 4:39pm

The Ministry of Civil Defence is advising of a potential tsunami threat to New Zealand from an earthquake of magnitude 8 at Vanuatu.

An advisory is being sent to all responding agencies, including Fire, Police, local authorities and others to put them on standby.

The public is advised to not be on beaches or in boats near the coast.

More details to follow.

Monday, October 5, 2009

One month into Spring...

You might not believe that we are already one month into Spring, especially given that Taupo has declared a State of Emergency due to heavy snow!

Heavy snow, up to a metre deep in places, closed roads throughout the central North Island, and required 668(!) travellers to be rescued from their vehicles on the Napier-Taupo Road.

A nice reminder to pack some extra things to make your stay more comfortable, should you ever get stuck somewhere on a road trip. My sleeping bag is one of the first things to go in the car if I'm off on a road trip - even if I'm going to be staying in hotels! And it's more pleasant for everyone involved if you've got something to snack on squirreled away - kids with low blood sugar is an emergency in its own right!

Indonesian earthquake

While the Samoan quake and resulting tsunami held the headlines in New Zealand, an even bigger tragedy unfolded in Indonesia, with a quake of magnitude 7.6 that triggered massive landslides that have buried entire villages under mud and rubble. It's expected that the death toll will be over 3000.

Unfortunately, geologists say that the worst is yet to come for Sumatra -

The current problem facing both Sumatra and the areas affected by the Samoan quake is the health problems associated with having decomposing bodies in the area.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Something for our Public Information Manager to do

Sorry, I didn't actually post anything here on Wednesday during the tsunami warning. I can see from the site stats that I had a fairly drastic increase in people looking at the site that day, and no update for you all! I was running around helping to get the EOC functioning, and didn't have a lot of time for anything else. But since people are actually checking here for information, I'll make sure it's on the list of things that need to be updated by our PIM during an event. This, and our Twitter account - poriruaEMO. Unfortunately, our normal IT system doesn't allow us access to Twitter, but there are workarounds, I just wouldn't put a guarrantee on it being the most timely source of info.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A busy day...

My diary for yesterday was really quite full - radio checks, Regional Welfare Advisory Group meeting in the Hutt Valley, talking to householders in Aberfeldy St about emergency preparedness - pretty solidly booked. But a bit after 7.30 this morning my phone beeped and came up with the message - Tsunami Warning - threat to New Zealand. Eeep!

I didn't make it to a single meeting.

We actually took it pretty seriously in Porirua. Given the non-event, we probably over-reacted, but the controller & I decided we would do exactly the same thing if it happened again. It was an invaluable learning exercise for our team - with all the focus of an actual, life-threatening situation (even if no lives were actually in danger here - except for some idiot surfers in Titahi Bay perhaps). It highlighted the gaps that need to be remedied, and increased our profile with the businesses and facilities in low lying areas that we contacted. I couldn't have designed a better exercise or PR campaign if I tried! Exercising just isn't the same - there's no sense of urgency, even if you are trying to play in real time, it can all be a bit amorphous and airy-fairy. But this was real people in real time, with real concerns of impending doom. Makes such a difference.

I should keep track of how many times I've been woken up by the National Warning System. This definitely isn't the first or even second time it's happened.

I apologise if I sound a bit flippant about it, but we are truly saddened by the loss of life in the Pacific Islands affected by the tsunami, and our thoughts go out to the residents of Porirua who have lost familiy & friends in this event.

If you wish to help, please think about donating money - do not donate goods - they are nigh impossible to actually deliver to the affected people, it's a logistical nightmare, and very expensive to deal with - unfortunately much actually gets thrown away. Donating money will get what is actually needed directly to where it is needed, with a minimum of fuss.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Playing Russian Roulette

So the big news at the end of last week was that the "It's Our Fault" project had shown that the Wellington Fault was about 50% less likely to cause a large (magnitude 7.5) quake in the next 100 years than previously thought. Hurrah!

Project leader Russ Van Dissen, from GNS, likened this to playing Russian Roulette with a 10-shot revolver, where previously we thought that the revolver was loaded with three rounds, but now we think it's only loaded with one, giving us a 10% chance of a large earthquake on the Wellington Fault in the next 100 years.

Much better odds, but the problem is that you're still playing Russian Roulette! And not only are you playing it with the Wellington Fault, but also the Ohariu Fault, the Wairarapa Fault, the Alpine Fault and any other number of less well-studied active faults in the area. That's a lot of triggers to pull, and we don't know how many bullets are in those guns.

And besides, you are more likely to experience a big quake on the Wellington Fault each year than you are to win Lotto, and yet people still buy Lotto tickets instead of emergency supplies or earthquake restraints. If only persuading people to spend $5 a week on preparing themselves was as easy as it is to get them to buy a Lotto ticket! Oh, to have Lotto's budget...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Felt that one!

Okay, you had to have felt that quake. Even I felt it, and I'm always missing them. 5.2, located 2okm south of Wellington. Jolted me awake just after 2am this morning. Triggered car alarms in my part of town. I lay awake waiting for further developments, but when nothing happened I went back to sleep. Must have slept through the 4.3 aftershock a bit before 4am.

Don't forget to fill out the felt earthquake report at Geonet if you felt it -

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bit of a soggy evening

So it rained yesterday... a lot.

I got out of a climate change workshop at Wellington City Council around 4pm, and it was pissing down. Drove back to Porirua with the windscreen wipers going full speed. Was planning to give a talk to PORSE later in the evening, so figured I'd stop by home to get my wet weather gear before continuing back to the office to prepare. While I was home I noticed that the Porirua Stream was getting close to it's 2-year flood levels. It had definitely been raining a lot.

We've been trying to establish what the stream guage level is on the Horokiri Stream when it floods Greys Road, so I figured it was prime time to see if the road was flooded yet, and I had time before my meeting.

First clue that things were worse than I thought was when the surface flooding was almost completely across both lanes outside McDonalds on Kenepuru Drive. Hit the motorway out to Paremata, and around Paremata Road there was quite a bit of surface flooding. Rang that in to the call centre. Carried on through to Pauatahanui, and discovered water pouring across the road in the village. Never seen that before! Did a quick recon of Greys road, and rang through requesting that the signs be put up for flooding, or close the road entirely - too many people end up in the ditch after missing the edge of the submerged road. Then out to Flightys Road, the bridge hadn't gone under yet, but I was asked what time high tide was. Good question. Unfortunately, low tide had just passed around 4 pm, so the tide was rising in addition to the rain falling. Joy...

Back to Pauatahanui, and started door knocking to make sure people weren't having too many problems. People had moved livestock to higher ground, one person had to relocate their rabbits, a restaurant had a pump running to keep the water out, others had streams pouring down their paths, knee deep water to the front door, septic tanks overflowing, water getting into garages and sheds. Some complete moron with a trailer overtook a sensible driver who had slowed down to make their way through the surface flooding...

By the time I made it to the other end of Pauatahanui Village, State Highway 58 was closed as the roundabout was underwater, and there were slips up towards the top of Haywards Hill and down the Hutt side. State Highway 1 was also closed at Pukerua Bay due to a slip, so I headed out there to see what was going on. Couldn't get past Mana due to the traffic, so I spent some time talking to people at the traffic lights, explaining what the problem was. With Paekakariki Hill Road also closed, the only way out of the Porirua Basin was to head south towards Wellington.

After that it was back out to Flightys road where the bridge was now completely underwater, and then along State Highway 58 to see where it was blocked - basically all the gravel from the roadworks where they had been widening the road had been scoured out and dumped across the road. They had just about finished clearing that section when I left.

Thankfully the rain had stopped falling around 7ish, but because of the incoming tide it was some time before the waters started to recede. The SH58 roundabout had cleared by the time I got back from Haywards, and things were beginning to look normal when I headed back to the office at about 9.30.

The EOC had been busy with people who had come in to help, and those who couldn't make it home due to closed roads. Our call centre had been up & running, and our roading & drainage crews had been busy busy - saw some of them standing in thigh deep water watching a foot-wide vortex above a drain they'd just unblocked. We eventually called quits about 10pm. A rather long day for everyone, I expect.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

National Advisory - Tsunami: Potential threat to NZ

Don't panic, it's been cancelled...

Woohoo, something that isn't the bloody flu!

At 10:21 pm last night my phone beeped at me to say I had a text, and being part of the generation who are addicted to their mobile phones, I pounced on it to see who had sent me a late night message. My number must very similar to the number belonging to some other young lady by the name of Emma, as I occassionally get random texts along the lines of "hey em. wot u werin". To my surprise, it wasn't a wrong number booty call, but the National Warning System. I could tell by the use of complete words and punctuation. "National Advisory - Tsunami: Potential threat to NZ No:01. Refer to fax or email." So refer I did, as fast as I could.

Somehow I'd missed the texts in my inbox from GeoNet telling me there had been a 6.6 and a 6.1 earthquake near Tuatapere (wherever the hell that was...). I didn't feel the quake at all, I think I was vacuuming at the time (which would probably be the reason I didn't hear my phone beep, come to think about it.), so Tuatapere obviously isn't anywhere near here. Turns out it's down Fiordland way. gets the advisories at the same time that we do, and by 10:25 there was a story about it. The reported size of the quake has varied a bit - GNS first reported it at 6.6, then revised it to 7.8. US Geological Service had it at 7.8 and has revised it back down to 7.6. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre initially had it at 8.2. I'm going to go with 7.8.

There was a bit of down time while we waited for the sea level gauges to tell us if any tsunami had actually been generated, but once the gauge at Jacksons Bay told us that a wave just 17cm high had been generated, the Minstry cancelled the potential threat advisory. A point to note, if you feel an earthquake that makes it hard for you to stand up, and you live by the sea or are on the beach, head for higher ground ASAP - we won't have time to tell you to evacuate.

The cancellation came through at 11.12pm. Evacuation warnings were being screened on Australian TV after that time... Apparently theatregoers at a performance at the beachside Bondi Pavillion in Sydney were evacuated. By the time I went to bed, none of the NZ news websites had actually published that the advisory had been cancelled - which is somewhat frustrating. Telling people they can stop panicking (if they did) is just as important as letting people know there might be a problem!

The faultline down there is still going ping quite enthusiastically with aftershocks. Check out the seismographs and recent quake information at And here's a article about it -

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weather & geology, or a combination of the two

Fun times in various parts of the North Island at the moment:

Flooding in the Gisborne area isloating some towns -

Heavy seas are eating the coastline in Hawkes Bay -

and the weather and an earthquake swarm (I actually felt one of them while I was in Dannevirke over the weekend!) have conspired to cause the evacuation of the town of Waihi, and a Declaration of a State of Emergency in the area, as saturated ground and frequent shaking have raised the threat of a landslide to dangerous levels. Someone described the geology of the area as an upside-down bowl of porridge, give it a good shake and it collapses with a soggy blurp -

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where did it come from?

I've been reading a fair number of blogs on swine flu lately, and I keep coming across claims in the comments that we should stop calling it swine flu because it has nothing to do with pigs.

What utter porkies!

Researchers from the UK, Hong Kong & and the US have reconstructed how and when this strain of the virus developed. By comparing the genome sequences of the pandemic strain with 100s of other strains from pigs, birds and humans that represent the full spectrum of influenza A viruses, the team was able to build a family tree of swine flu and date when it appeared.

And it quite definitely came to us via pigs - take a pig-shaped bowl, add a couple of dashes of avian flu, a dollop of human flu, and a splash of swine, and mix it all around for about 20 years, and then let it marinade for another 10 years before pouring it into a human-shaped vessel - ready for serving in January.

Yep, January, not April. This strain of swine flu made the leap to human hosts in January of this year - which means that it had quite busily circulating amongst the Mexican population like flu usually does for several months. And like flu usually does, it killed a number of people (NZ loses about 100 to seasonal flu every year). Those people were tested to see what they died of and the new strain of flu was revealed to be the culprit.

Tada! A new, apparently quite deadly, strain of flu erupts into the world view. Except that the numbers are a bit skewed as the first cases of swine flu to be confirmed are deaths. If nine out of the ten cases you've found are dead because of it, then it appears to be very deadly indeed, but when you test more and more people, and find that most people who've caught it just thought they had a bad cold and didn't bother going to a doctor, then the situation changes. I wouldn't be surprised to find that a quarter of Mexico had caught it and gotten over it already by the time it "emerged".

And now it's here, and running wild and free throughout the population. We've given up containing it in most places and we've stopped testing for it except in extreme cases, and keeping the Tamiflu for those extreme cases or people who are high risk because of other health issues. It's now effectively part of the seasonal flu collection - though interesting to note that the 18 other strains of influenza A doing the rounds this season are all Tamiflu-resistant.

Just because we've stopped testing for it and isolating people who might have it doesn't mean you can go back to going to work sick anymore - if you come down with the flu (any kind of flu) you should follow all the same procedures - stay home until you have been clear of symptoms for 24 hours, don't spread your germs around.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have the flu, but what kind?

As coinicidence would have it, just as the World Health Organisation is finally deciding to declare that swine flu is a pandemic (despite the situation meeting their technical definition for several weeks now - it's a political thing...), I'm coming down with the flu.

Thursday night I started feeling feverish and kind of nauseous, and my lymph nodes at my jaw were swollen, so I texted the boss to say I wasn't coming in on Friday. Friday morning I wake up with a sore throat, my sinuses draining down the back of my throat, a headache, still feverish, and then my muscles start aching.

Since I'd spent much of Thursday dealing with pandemic planning, I rang Healthline (0800-611-116) to find out what the deal was. They decided that, since I hadn't been overseas in the past seven days, or in contact with a confirmed swine flu case, that it was probably just one of the usual seasonal flu varieties - slightly annoying since I was vaccinated this year - I guess I've just got one of the varieties not included in this year's vaccine, or the vaccine is preventing me from getting a much worse dose - what I've got is really quite mild.

But, without a swab taken and testing done, we have no idea what strain of flu I have - I'd actually really love to know.

Now I've got a question for the health professionals out there - I know you're reading.

How are you going to detect the first community accquired cases of swine flu in New Zealand, if you're only testing people who have been overseas recently, or who have been in contact with someone with swine flu?

The first person who catches it from holding the handrail on the escalator at the shopping mall, and then wiping their eye, a minute after someone with swine flu sneezed all over it, is going to be told that they have seasonal flu because they don't meet the criteria for testing.

I'll be wrapped up on the couch awaiting your answer, since, even though I probably don't have kune kune cooties, I still have a variety of influenza, and I'm going to keep it to myself - which is what everyone should do when they have something infectious!

Friday, June 5, 2009

You think swine flu is bad?

Those of us with two X chromosomes need not fear. Amongst females it presents merely as the common cold, but should you be of the male persuasion...beware the man flu! It's already a global pandemic.

*snigger* I've seen it before, it's not pretty. Pretty funny, but not pretty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Being prepared - not just for disasters

It doesn't take a big disaster like an earthquake to give you a reason to use your survival kit, just a simple loss of power - due to a computer problem, no less.

Hundreds of Genesis customers lost power to their homes when the computer system that runs Genesis' pre-pay power plan broke down, leaving people with no way to top up their accounts on one of the coldest weekends so far this year.

The problems began on Saturday, when customers running low on credit tried to pay for their power in advance, but a computer fault meant they could not pay and the power went out for hundreds of customers over the next 24 hours. The payment system was fixed about 2pm yesterday, but Genesis could not say how many customers were still without power last night.

You need to have some way of cooking food that doesn't involve electricity - a gas burner, or a BBQ. Food that you can eat that doesn't require heating is also a great plan.

Warm clothing - layer up with wool jerseys - I found some really nice merino tops at SaveMart for about $5 each the other day.

Candles aren't the safest way to provide lighting, so a gas lantern, or the nifty battery-powered LED lanterns you can get these days are good for if you need to stay up during the evening. And of course, have a torch handy for moving around in the dark.

A battery-powered radio so you can keep up with what's happening in the world, and have something to listen to other than the kids complaining that they can't watch TV.

And of course, enough spare batteries to keep everything going.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's a long weekend...

...And you know what that means... Murphy's Law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so for everyone planning a long weekend out and about, forget it. The weather is going to be awful.

MetService expects another wintry spell on the weekend. A strong, very cold southerly is forecast to spread onto southern New Zealand on Saturday night and
further north on Sunday. Winds should start easing from the south from Sunday night as freezing levels rise slowly.

Snow is likely to affect many roads in the south and east of the South Island and higher roads in eastern and central North Island areas including the Rimutaka Road on Sunday. Wind chill means conditions will be severe for animals and trampers in exposed areas in the hills and ranges.

People are advised to keep up to date with weather forecasts. Motorists should check road conditions before departing, particularly on Sunday, and farmers should shelter vulnerable animals.

MetService expects the very cold southerly blast to reach Wellington and Wairarapa mid morning on Sunday and spread further north in the afternoon and evening. Snow showers are likely to fall as low as 300 to 500 metres, affecting many higher roads, including the Rimutaka Road, Desert Road, Gentle Annie Route and Napier-Taupo highway, and coat the higher ranges with heavy snow. Some of the hill suburbs in Wellington could also see snow. Wind chill temperatures will probably be around -5 degrees Celsius in exposed places, but extreme in the mountains. Weather conditions should start to ease on Monday morning.

It's going to be a good ski season this year! But you might want to wait until the weather eases before heading for the mountains.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Turn your lights on!

Wasn't that fun? No, not really... To use the vernacular, it sucked big time. What awful weather! And it's not over yet.

Bad weather seems to bring out the worst in drivers. I'm going to have a quick rant about people who drive in the rain without headlights.

Headlights aren't just there to help you seen in the dark. They are also there to make it easier for people to see you. If you've turned on your windscreen wipers to help you see through the rain, how about you turn your headlights on so that other people trying to see through the rain have a better chance of seeing and avoiding you. Especially if you happen to have a car the colour of a wet road...

I don't want to have to stop and help out at an accident in the pouring rain because someone didn't think that being visible on the road was a good thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Winter's here

Winter appears to be here with a vengeance. My phone has been beeping every few hours over the past couple of days to warn of snowfall on the Rimutaka Hill Road, and the papers (and their online equivalents) have been full of images of snow, and tales of woe from people who haven't been driving to the conditions, delayed flights, cancelled ferry crossings, flooding, tornadoes and other weather-related issues. - nice picture of a waterspout off the Bay of Plenty coast

But wait, there's more! Severe weather warning for this weekend - strong winds again, gusting up to 120kmh in exposed places. And there's a fair bit of rain expected too. Why does it always happen on the weekend??

A, B, H1N1, H5N1 - what the hell does it mean?

An excellent article explaining all about Influenza labelling and the origins of this new flu can be found here -

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bit windy, i'n't it?

Just about got blown out my lane driving home this evening, and watching a double-decker bus swaying around made me a bot nervous... I see that sustained wind speeds on Mt Kaukau are up around 95kph, gusting to 120kph at the moment.

Take care out there, people!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blown about, rained on, and shaken

Another lovely day in Wellington... Yeah, right.

It's been blowing a gale since last night, knocking down trees here and there, disrupting flights, and generally causing havoc. Parts of Karori lost power after the wind damaged some equipment. It's eased slightly for now, but a warning is in place for more to come over the weekend.

The wind was accompanied by heavy rain, and more of that is expected too.

And if we weren't having a fun day with the wind and rain, nature decided we could have ourselves an earthquake too. Apparently it was a 4.5 on the Richter scale, and knocked some stuff off a few shelves in the upper South Island, but I didn't notice a thing - as usual...

Something to take into consideration really - Murphy's law dictates that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong - so obviously any big disaster is going to happen during the most miserable weather possible. Plan for the worst - at least you'll be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine flu update - Sorry... Influenza A/H1N1...

Poor piggies are copping the flak on this one, and being slaughtered in various countries around the world, even though you can't catch H1N1, as it's now being relabelled, from eating infected pork.

Here's the latest statistics provided to us by Regional Public Health and the Ministry of Health.

The Wellington region currently has 2 suspect cases. A total of 22 suspected cases have already been cleared of having swine flu (H1N1 influenza). There have been no confirmed cases in our region.

New Zealand has four cases confirmed positive for Influenza A (H1N1). There are a further 13 probable cases (all close contacts or passengers on NZ1), and 89 suspected and probable cases.

In total there are 360 people in isolation and being treated with Tamiflu (up 91 from 269 on Saturday). This includes suspected cases and people without symptoms who are being isolated as a precaution because they were in close contact with a suspected case.

An additional probable case in Auckland arrived on flight NZ7 from San Francisco on Tuesday 28 April. This person has tested positive for Influenza A and samples have been sent to ESR as part of further testing to determine whether or not they have Influenza A (H1N1) Swine Flu.

As of 1200hrs, 4 May 2009 18 countries have officially reported 898 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection. The United States Government has reported 226 laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death. Mexico has reported 506 confirmed human cases of infection, including 19 deaths.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (85), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Costa Rica (1), Denmark (1), France (2), Germany (8), Ireland (1), Israel (3), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (4), Republic of Korea (1), Spain (40), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (15).

Canada, on 2 May, reported the identification of the A (H1N1) virus in a swine herd in Alberta. It is highly probable that the pigs were exposed to the virus from a Canadian farm worker recently returned from Mexico, who had exhibited flu-like symptoms and had contact with the pigs. There is no indication of virus adaptation through transfer from human to pigs at this time.

The numbers really aren't looking as exciting as first reported.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Influenza - the flavour of the month

And the flavour of the month is apparently pork!

Yes, we actually have swine flu in New Zealand. No, there's no reason to panic.
It's no worse that any of the other batches of Influenza A & B that do the rounds every year.

Until you hear otherwise, just carry on as usual, and be extra vigilant about washing your hands, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough & sneeze, and being considerate of others and not going out when you're sick.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And now for the weather

Just to remind you that the incoming flu season is usually accompanied by crappy weather - here's some crappy weather! We've currently got a severe weather warning for heavy rain for tonight.

Rain becoming heavy from later this afternoon. In the 18 to 21 hours from 3pm today, around 200mm possible on higher slopes of the Tararuas and 80 to 100mm possible about the northern hills of Wellington. Heaviest falls are likely to be overnight with peak intensities of 25mm per hour possible, especially about the Tararuas.

Please be extra careful on the roads - there have been a number of weather-related accidents around the region lately. And if you have a stormwater grate outside your home, you can help avoid having a huge puddle to navigate if you clear the autumn debris from it.

More on influenza A

The numbers that are cropping up in the paper about people infected with influenza A (that may be swine flu) are seemingly quite alarming. But they really do have to be put into context.

Every year, somewhere between 380,000 and 760,000 New Zealanders become infected with one of the many strains of influenza. Many of those cases are varieties of influenza A (strains that originated in animals) - like the Spanish flu-strain, California, New Caledonia, or Brisbane strains.

There is an influenza surveillance summary released by ESR (who are based in Kenepuru) each month. This surveillance gives an indication of the number of cases and distribution of influenza in the community, and identifies the main strains of the virus that are doing the rounds. It's a sample of cases, and not the complete statitisics for the country, and the numbers obviously don't include those who didn't bother going to the doctor. But anyway, in June 2008, 141 cases of influenza were confirmed by testing - 114 of those were strains of influenza A. July 2008 recorded 295 cases of influenza, 155 of which were influenza A strains. Other months show comparable proportions.

There are seasonal surges in people fronting up to their doctors with influenza-like illness, and there are also surges when something triggers concern, such as the threat of a pandemic. Fear lowers the threshhold for going to the doctor. Many kiwis will suffer through what they think is just a cold, but is probably a mild case of influenza, without visiting a doctor. Bring up the threat of a pandemic and people head to the doctor at the drop of a sneezed-in tissue. With the expected proportions of influenza A cases in mind, when you increase the the number of tests performed, you'll increase the number of confirmed cases. Some of the people being tested have said that it just feels like they have a cold, and are effectively only being tested because of circumstances.

Until the cases of influenza A are confirmed as being the actual swine flu, I'm not really going to worry. We're not outside the bounds of statistical normalcy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu

The big headline of the day is obviously swine flu. The outbreak is not currently being treated as a pandemic, but a close watch is being kept.

Regardless of whether it's bird flu, pig flu, or just the standard flu, and even just normal coughs and colds, I cannot stress the need for hand hygiene enough. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing, and before handling food. Washing with soap and water is actually more effective at removing the infuenza virus from your hands than those hand sanitzers are -

And don't go to school or work if you are sick!

Here are a collection of medial releases from the Ministry of Health

And here's the FAQ on swine flu from the Centre for Disease Control in the US -

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Celebrating 75 years of firefighting in Plimmerton

Plimmerton Volunteer Fire Brigade celebrated 75 years of firefighting in Plimmerton with an Emergency Services Parade of around 25 emergency vehicles through Plimmerton, followed by an open day at Plimmerton School. Fire trucks, tankers, rescue tenders, amublances - St John & Wellington Free Amubulance, rural fire, Salvation Army, Police and Porirua Emergency Management - it was quite an impressive sight to see them all winding their way down the road. Lots of families out enjoying the nice weather, lots of kids to wave to. Once we got to Plimmerton School there were demostrations of the Fire Service's kitchen fire simulator, a motor vehicle extrication, followed by paramedic treatment and winching the patient into a hovering Helipro chopper, then a couple of people from the Wellington Rural Fire Force rappelled out of the helicopter. A good day all round. It was good to see so many people reading the information on the PEMObile!

Pictures from the event can be found here -

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Aotea College Rescue Team

Some good news for a change...

We've embarked on a project with Aotea College and Tai Poutini Polytechnic's Emergency Management Academy of New Zealand (EMANZ), putting a dozen Year 12 &13 students through the process of gaining Orange Cards as NZ USAR (Urban Search And Rescue) Responders - meaning that they'll have the minimum industry standard of competency in responding to structural collapse incidents. Not a dumbed-down kids version, but the same qualification that firefighters have. These qualifications also count towards their NCEA levels - certainly a bit different from studying Shakespeare!

Tuesday kicked off with a day of personal preparedness for emergencies, the basics of the Co-ordinated Incident Management System (CIMS), and mass casualty triage, with a visit from the NZ Police to talk about their role in disasters. We'll be following this up and helping them through their workbooks in the coming weeks. After that will be first aid, USAR awareness and general rescue, interspersed with visits to and by assorted emergency response agencies in the area - Fire Service, Rural Fire, Ambulance, community rescue teams etc.

These students are going to be learning skills that will be invaluable to themselves, their families, and communities, as well as to their prospective employers.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lights out

We know things get a bit chaotic when the power goes out in Wellington during rush hour, but imagine how much worse it would be when the power is cut to over 70,000 homes and business in somewhere as busy as Sydney, Australia, at 5.45pm. That's exactly what happened last Monday. Traffics lights out all over the place and some major routes closed for public safety. Power was only out for two hours, but the aftermath took a lot longer to clear.

And then today, around 12.30pm NZ time (10.30am local time) the power goes out again in Sydney, this time affecting 50,000 homes and businesses.

Italy too

We're not the onlys one's shaking today. Central Italy has been struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake at 1.32am local time (1.32pm NZ time). With a focal depth of only 10km, that's going to be felt as a significant quake.

EDIT: The maginitude for the quake has been revised to 5.8 - which is the same size as the quake which caused some damage in Gisborne in December 2007. Thankfully we didn't have to contend with medieval buildings. Yay for building codes!

All shook up

Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty have had a bit of a shake up recently.

Matata kicked it off yesterday with a 3.6 at 5.16pm, and then the Hawkes Bay woke up nice and early this morning with a 4.1 for Napier at 5.47am, and followed up with a 4.2 for Gisborne at 8.51am, and then another less than an hour ago, measuring 4.4.

Here's an image from the Kokohu seismograph at 1.20pm showing the quakes and their aftershocks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano has erupted for the first time in 20 years, threatening air traffic and nearby villages with a towering burst of ash. The first blast occurred at 6.38pm Monday NZ time, and it was followed by four smaller eruptions. More eruptions are expected. The 3,108 metre volcano, in a sparsely populated area 170 km southwest of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city with about 260,000 people, had been showing signs of a possible eruption for about two months.

And last week an underwater volcano near Tonga stopped being an underwater volcano, and started building up above the surface, in an eruption that sent clouds of smoke, steam and ash thousands of metres into the sky, forcing air traffic to divert around it. Some great pictures can be found here. The Tongan earthquake on Friday morning which sparked a tsunami warning was not directly related to the eruption.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tsunami? Not today thankfully

So I was enjoying a bit of a sleep-in on Friday before heading out to the final day of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research's Emeregency management Summer Institute when my phone wakes me up to tell me that there's a National Advisory - Tsunami: Potential threat to NZ.

I woke up in a hurry, let me tell you!

An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale had occurred at 7.18am NZDST, at a depth of 48km, in the region of the Tongan islands. 23.0 South, 174.8 West.

An earthquake of this size automatically generates a tsunami warning from the Pacifc Tsunami Warning Centre, because such earthquakes often generate destructive tsunamis that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes or hours, so any warning is better than none. The centre then monitors sea level gauges nearest the region and reports if any tsunami activity was observed.

GNS Science convened the tsunami expert panel and all the available NZ and international data about the earthquake and sea levels was being closely monitored and analysed.

The only tsunami wave activity reported was from Niue at 8.11am NZDST, where they had waves 4cm higher than usual every 6 minutes, so the warning was cancelled and we could all relax and get on with our day.

Certainly caused a bit of a flurry of activity - there is nothing more frustrating than waiting for your computer to start up in the morning when there is something time-critical that you need to look at.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Disaster breeds disaster

As if dealing with the effects of a cyclone wasn't hard enough on its own, Queensland now has to deal with a cocktail of 650 tonnes of fuel and fertiliser dumped into the ocean off its south-east coast after 31 shipping containers fell overboard during the storm and damaged the fuels stores in the hull of the Pacific Adventurer. Aerial reports estimate the oil slick covers three nautical miles by 500 metres and is drifting north-west. The fertiliser should dilute well enough that the only thing it'll do is cause an algal bloom, but the oil slick has the potential to kill any wildlife that it comes in to contact with. The shipping containers are still bobbing around out there somewhere.

Keep missing them...

Another earthquake that I missed... *sigh*

This one happened at 10.46 last night, and was centred about 50km south-east of Blenheim. Measured 4.3. Apparently it was felt in Wellington, but obviously not by me.

There was also a quake measuring 4.7 up near Taupo at 4.49 yesterday afternoon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cyclone Hamish

While Victoria begins to bury its dead from the February fires, Queensland is bracing itself for Cyclone Hamish. It was rated at Category 5 early this morning (same size as Cyclone Larry which wreaked havoc), but appears to be weakening to a low Category 4, and evacuation plans in some areas have been dropped.

Our own bad weather last week had yachties up north battening down the hatches, and still getting battered about, and it looks like we're in for a cold snap over the next few days. And just this morning I'd been thinking how nice the weather's been here lately - just enough rain to keep the grass growing, and stop most of the countryside from catching fire (except for Owhiro Bay, but that one was a bit suspicious...), but still lots of nice sunny days. Oh well. Time to dig out the woolly jumper...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crikey! That was close!

Early on Tuesday morning an asteroid between 30-50m in size zoomed past the Earth, just 60,000km above the southwestern Pacific. I know that sounds like a long way away, but the moon is seven times that distance from here. No one has ever seen something that big come so close before. If it had hit New Zealand, it would be like having a nuclear bomb go off, and it would have devastated a large area. If it had hit the sea, it would have generated a tsunami. Astronomers first spotted it on Friday, and probably promptly crapped themselves until they realised that it's trajectory meant it wasn't going to hit us.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Severe weather warning, but no tsunami

I hope you didn't have a barbeque planned for Friday...

The leftovers of Tropical Cyclone Innis look set to give us a dousing, with strong northerly winds and heavy rain - up to 100ml in the 9 hours from 6am to 3pm on Friday. Heaviest falls are expected late morning, then easing to showers continuing into Saturday.

And the good news is that an earthquake near Raoul Island in the Kermadecs this morning poses no tsunami threat to NZ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And while Victoria burned, Queensland flooded

And while Victoria burned, Queensland flooded...

I recall someone making a blog post asking the two states to swap weather...

"The Lucky Country" indeed...

Victoria fires

It's hard to comprehend fires so big and intense that entire towns are destroyed. I was incommunicado when the fires hit, so it was something of a shock when I got back from holiday to discover so many people had been killed, and so much destruction - entire towns with not a building left standing. After an unprecedented heat wave, some of the fires started naturally, but some of the fires were acts of arson, and possibly even murder, with over 4o people killed in the fire that consumed Marysville, which is believed to have been deliberately lit. The death toll in these fires now stands at 189. A contingent of 50 New Zealand rural firefighters has headed over to assist on the front line, with more scheduled to head over in the next few weeks. I wish I were more qualified as a fire fighter, then I'd go too.

I know some of these towns were very scenic locations with houses nestled in amongst the trees, and this was part of the problem once the fires had started. Without a break between bush and houses, the houses were consumed as fast as the trees. The trees which provided shade & shelter were also a death trap.

I saw on the news a couple whose house had been spared because seven years ago they had bulldozed 250 trees to create a fire break around their house - earning them a $50,000 fine and criminal conviction at the time. Their house still stands whereas everything else in a 2km area has been obliterated. It's an interesting illustration of the juggling act that councils need to play between protecting the natural environment and protecting the lives of the people that live there.

Through our ability to fight and prevent bush fires, we have actually intensified the danger to ourselves and increase the potential for disaster. By extinguishing the small fires which would naturally have ripped through and burned off the deadfall and dry undergrowth with low intensity, the fuel load builds and builds. More fuel means bigger and more intense fires that spread more rapidly.

In a country where the trees explode, and the forest likes to burn as part of its life cycle, fire breaks are incredibly important. Things aren't as bad in New Zealand, but in areas where gorse is predominant, having a fire break between you and the quite flammable bushes is a good thing. There are some areas of Porirua where I know that gorse grows right up to people's wooden fences. If you're in an area with bush over the back fence, have a look at it. Ideally you should clear about 5 metres, so that you have a decent fire break. Contact the council if your place backs on to council reserve.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Continuity error

Unfortunately, we've been having a few issues lately with our internet access, meaning that I've been unable to update from work. This post is brought to you from our Emergency Operations Centre, which still has a workable connection to the world wide web.

The Ministry of Health, on the other hand, is still without internet after being hit by a rather nasty worm - the computers that is, not the staff... They shut down their systems when they realised they were infected, and are quarrantining themselves from the web until they are sure that the infection has been cleared up, and that they won't be reinfected. Quite a bit of their work is web-based and, up until the end of last week, they couldn't even order stationery.

A definite test of the ministry's business continuity planning.

Another test for those in Wellington was a power cut on Wednesday morning, affecting the southern suburbs, much of central Wellington and as far north as Johnsonville and Khandallah, from 7.42am. Traffic lights were out and trolley buses stranded, causing traffic snarl-ups all over. Some people were trapped in lifts, and others had to use the light of their cellphones to find their way down darkened stairwells, and according to some, the thing which caused general panic was the fact that many of the coffee shops couldn't operate! The ones that did have power had very long queues. The power cut also took out the city's internet, which took longer than the power to come back on line. It even affected us in Porirua, as so much of our internet traffic goes through Wellington.

So the combination of general lack of power until about 9am , the resulting loss of internet for longer, and the under-caffeination of Wellington's office workers meant that a lot of businesses had a very unproductive day.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Now those are what I call aftershocks!

There have been a few earthquakes near the north coast of Papua, Indonesia, some rather big ones in fact, but thankfully none have posed a tsunami risk to us.

Earthquake magnitude is a logarithmic measure of earthquake size. In simple terms, this means that at the same distance from the earthquake, the shaking will be 10 times as large during a magnitude 5 earthquake as during a magnitude 4 earthquake. The total amount of energy released by the earthquake, however, goes up by a factor of 32. Now check out these magnitudes, courtesy of the US Geological survey. Times are in NZ Daylight Savings Time.

January 4 2009

07:43am- 7.6
08:47 - 4.8
09:30 - 5.1
09:41 - 5.6
10:07 - 5.2
10:23 - 5.0
10:33 - 7.3
11:01 - 5.2
12:00noon - 5.4
12:05pm - 5.3
12:55 - 5.1
01:55 - 5.3
02:29 - 4.7
02:47 - 4.8
03:28 - 4.9
05:44 - 5.4
06:05 - 4.9
06:53 - 4.7
07:14 - 6.0
07:33 - 5.1
08:12 - 4.9
08:54 - 4.3
11:08 - 4.6
11:49 - 5.0

January 5 2009
01:06am - 4.8
01:10 - 4.8
03:43 - 4.6
05:13 - 4.7

Those are some big aftershocks, and not knowing whether the next one is going to be worse or less than the previous one has to be terrifying!

Think before you strike the match

It's the time of year when farming types like to burn things - piles of gorse, crop stubble, etc. Just remember, you always need a permit to do this anywhere within Porirua's jurisdiction, and you aren't allowed to do it during a total fire ban, even if you've been issued a permit.

If you do have a permit, you still have to make sure that your fire stays under your control, otherwise you'll be looking at the bill for having the rural fire force put it out for you. And that doesn't come cheap, with one Southland farmer facing a bill of over $500,000.

For more information about what you can and can't burn where and when in Porirua, please contact Porirua City Council's Principal Rural Fire Officer, ph - 237-5089.