Impact of the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake on Wellington CBD apartment residents: results of a survey

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Becker, J.S.; Coomer, M.A.; Blake, D.; Garden, E.; Rampton, A.; Newman-Hall, G.; Van der Velde, M.; Johnston, D.M. 2018 Impact of the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake on Wellington CBD apartment residents: results of a survey. Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2018/45. 152 p.; doi: 10.21420/RH0PMM18.


During September and October 2017, a survey of apartment dwellers in the Wellington Central Business District (CBD) was conducted to investigate the impact of the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake on residents. We were interested in knowing people’s experiences of the earthquake, including the immediate impacts, the need for evacuation, alternative accommodation arrangements, disruption to services, and preparedness behaviour. The aim was to better understand the unique challenges that apartment dwellers experience following an emergency, and to provide recommendations on how best to plan for, prepare and respond to any future events. The survey was conducted online and received 803 responses from self-selected participants. The following report presents a summary of results and highlights key learnings from the survey.

By way of overview, our findings identified that of the respondents that were aware of the potential tsunami risk, 43% stated they made the decision to evacuate because of experiencing a ‘long or strong’ earthquake which implied the possibility of a tsunami. However, there were also significant numbers who reported that they evacuated for reasons other than an expected tsunami or were not worried about a tsunami. In making the decision to evacuate immediately after the earthquake, people relied on looking to other people in their apartment to confirm what they needed to do. People also evacuated for other reasons, such as precaution/fear, the need to be with other people, as well as structural and non-structural damage to apartment buildings. People further stated that they returned when they felt safe (51%). Consequently, for this earthquake, feelings of safety and social connections were an important element of the evacuation and return process. Apartment dwellers were concerned about their safety during subsequent earthquakes, particularly when out and about in the CBD (80%). People noted the psychosocial impacts of the earthquake on them, and their need to seek social support for reassurance. A few had moved out of the CBD altogether, because of the overall impact of the earthquakes.

Most people who evacuated stayed somewhere close, within the region (96% overall). Eighty-three percent stayed within Wellington city and an extra 15.3% stayed within the wider Wellington Region. When asked about what they might do in a future event, 74% stated they thought they would stay within the region. This indicates the importance of future planning to consider where evacuees might go within the Wellington Region, and what plans need to be put in place to accommodate these people over short and long-term timeframes.

The Kaikōura earthquake enhanced baseline levels of preparedness in apartment dwellers. People reported they were more likely to undertake easier preparedness actions like collecting survival items but were not as likely to participate in earthquake-related community-based activities, securing furniture or avoiding earthquake-prone buildings. There were some differences between CBD dwellers who owned apartments versus those who rented. Apartment renters were more likely to evacuate following the earthquake, compared with owners, due to official evacuation, building damage, response to tsunami, or fear. Owners were more likely to agree or strongly agree that they had the information or knew instinctively what to do to make decisions about evacuation after the earthquake. Renters were significantly more likely to agree/strongly agree that they were more confused about whether to stay in their apartment or leave the city centre. Owners received information updates after the earthquake mostly from unofficial sources such as body corporates and other residents, whilst renters mostly received theirs from official sources e.g. Earthquake Commission (EQC), Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO), Wellington City Council (WCC) and their employer. Renters noted limitations for strengthening and securing furniture (e.g. rental contracts prohibit “making holes in walls”). Apartment dwellers in general also noted that they had limited space to store survival items, making preparedness a challenge. (auth)