Study finds lack of basic preparations for a major earthquake by Wellington residents

A survey of Wellington residents conducted by two Victoria University of Wellington PhD students has revealed the majority of respondents have not carried out basic earthquake preparations.

Lauren Vinnell and Amanda Wallis, both from the University’s School of Psychology, share an interest in increasing resilience to nature’s hazards.

Lauren’s PhD thesis aims to understand why people in Wellington are not preparing, and to use that understanding to get people preparing more. “My work is targeting the base level–the resilience of individuals. If individuals are better able to survive, respond, and recover in a disaster, then communities and cities will have a better chance at doing the same.”

Amanda’s PhD research examines the psychological drivers behind disaster preparedness, and the specific role of place attachment in increasing preparedness, with a focus on mitigating and helping actions.

Their project found that the most common action Wellington residents have taken is storing water, which 55 percent of respondents had done. Having stored food was the next highest at 50 percent, while only 43 percent had an emergency kit, and 37 percent had heavy objects stored low.

They also found that there were a number of preparedness actions very few respondents had taken. Only 9.7 percent of people had a water tank, and only around 12 percent had disaster insurance or had strengthened their house’s foundations.

The main reason people hadn’t taken preparedness actions was because they hadn’t thought about it. Other reasons were because they hadn’t got around to it and because of complacency. Cost was only considered to be a barrier for two of the 18 preparedness actions–purchasing a water tank and getting disaster insurance.

Even if you have taken one or more of these actions to prepare for an earthquake, Vinnell stresses, it is important not to become complacent. “It’s easy to look at these percentages and think ‘at least I’ve done something, that’s more than a lot of people’, and not worry about doing anything else. It’s important to do as much as you possibly can to prepare, regardless of what other people have or haven’t done.”

The survey was funded by Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, one of eleven Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)-funded National Science Challenges. It took place in November 2017 and data was collected from over 700 residents in Wellington City, the Hutt Valley and Porirua.

Despite the results of the survey, Wellington is considered by civil defence authorities to be a relatively well-prepared city comparatively.

Regional Manager for the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO), Jeremy Holmes, says: “While the findings from 2017 were not as good as they could be, the good news is that the total number of people taking action to prepare themselves is increasing each year. We know that even small steps taken in advance of an emergency can go a long way in a real-life event, so we are constantly urging people to do as much as possible to be prepared.

“One of the simplest and most important things you can do is to have a conversation with your family or flatmates about what you would do in an emergency if you couldn’t contact each other. You can also use our website to see if you are in a tsunami zone and discuss the route you would walk to evacuate.

For more information on earthquake planning, you can request a copy of the Earthquake Planning Guide, which takes you through steps to help you prepare for an earthqauke. This guide comes in 15 different languages. You can also find out about how to prepare for an earthquake - including checking if you live or work in a tsunami zone by visiting