“Patiently waiting on the unlikely opportunity for a photo with a tsunami.”
PhD project title:
Aotearoa New Zealand’s Tsunami Warning System: Considerations for Enhancing Hazard Communication and Response.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s tsunami warning system differs to those of other at-risk countries’ due to the separated structure of hazard monitoring, warning dissemination, and evacuation coordination. The divided responsibilities within this warning system provide a unique opportunity to investigate how warnings are decided upon, communicated, and how education schemes can be tailored to improve awareness and preparedness. This research aims to develop the understanding of tsunami warning system processes and dynamics to increase the effectiveness of these systems.
Social research methods were used to collect 111 documents and archives, conduct 57 semi-structured interviews, and carry out 13 overt participant observations. The interviews were conducted with tsunami researchers, warning specialists, emergency managers, and preparedness experts in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the UK, and the USA. The participant observations were carried out during institutional meetings, workshops, and activities across Aotearoa New Zealand.
Three key findings were established from the qualitative data analysis. First, the division of responsibilities between the national, regional, and local agencies involved in monitoring, disseminating, and responding to official tsunami warnings can lead to errors and delays in issuing this information. Second, the integration of local knowledge into education campaigns and emergency drills, using citizen science programmes, can make the public more likely to self-evacuate after observing natural tsunami warning signs. Third, the use of both technological and non-technological methods for tsunami warning communication through a multi-channel approach can improve the effectiveness of warning systems, emphasising that these systems should not rely solely on technological methods.
These findings indicate that Aotearoa New Zealand would benefit from creating a joint tsunami warning system structure to enhance decision-making and communication between agencies, further utilising citizen science programmes to strengthen local tsunami resilience levels, and using both technological and non-technological communication methods to overcome the increasing reliance on technology.