UCL Earth Sciences


Rachel Hunt

“Patiently waiting on the unlikely opportunity for a photo with a tsunami.”

PhD project title:

Integrating Traditional and Scientific Knowledge for Tsunami Education: Cross-cultural Hazard Communication in New Zealand.

Rachel Hunt
Project description:

Individuals and communities are known to respond in different ways to official tsunami warnings and natural tsunami warning signs. This research seeks to understand if and how people from different cultural backgrounds and socio-economic groups also respond differently to science-based tsunami education, the ways in which scientific tsunami information can be integrated with traditional knowledge and cultural worldviews, and the dependence of such integration on the chosen methods of communication. This interdisciplinary investigation will focus on communities along the eastern coasts of New Zealand’s North Island that are particularly vulnerable to Pacific Ocean tsunamis. Two culturally distinct groups are present in this area, descendants of eastern Polynesian travellers and white European settlers, known as the Māori and Pākehā respectively. Social research methods will be utilised to analyse the likely differences in tsunami responses between these two groups.

Documents and archives will be studied to examine the nature and content of official tsunami information and the methods currently used to communicate these warnings. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with tsunami warning specialists and emergency managers to gain an understanding of perceptions held amongst officials regarding the influence of cultural backgrounds upon the effectiveness of official warnings. Questionnaire surveys will be carried out, followed by semi-structured interviews with Māori and Pākehā peoples, to explore the effect of traditional knowledge on the ways in which these populations receive and use official tsunami warnings. Integrated tsunami information, incorporating both traditional and scientific knowledge, will be compiled and presented to the Māori and Pākehā through a variety of communication methods. This action research will be used alongside repeated questionnaire surveys and focus groups to evaluate the suitability of these materials and approaches for education programmes. This study will be used to improve the understanding of cross-cultural tsunami responses to official warnings and natural warning signs.