Govt gives go-ahead for 24/7 hazards monitoring

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith says the 24/7 hazards monitoring service will be fully operational by the end of 2018. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The Government has given the green light to a 24/7 natural hazards monitoring service, after the response to last November’s Kaikoura earthquake raised fears about a lack of readiness for a major disaster.

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith and Civil Defence Minister Nathan Guy will this morning announce the upgrade of the GeoNet monitoring service, replacing the current on-call system which came in for criticism after the magnitude-7.8 shake.

In a blog post after the Kaikoura quake, GeoNet director Dr Ken Gledhill highlighted the lack of round-the-clock hazards monitoring as one of the flaws in our emergency management system.

“Because we do not have a 24/7 monitoring centre, we have to wake people and get them out of bed to look at complex data and make serious calls very quickly.

“It is not an ideal situation given the past few months and I’d like to change that by getting support for a 24/7 monitoring centre for geohazards.”

Labour Civil Defence spokeswoman Clare Curran also presented a petition to Parliament asking the Government to provide funding for a 24/7 hazards monitoring service, after over 11,000 people demanded action.

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith told Newsroom the new 24/7 service would be fully operational by the end of 2018, improving the speed and quality of hazards monitoring.

“The simple way to describe it is going from what we have at the moment which is having somebody on call, to having somebody at the desk - I think it’s a good step to take and it’s absolutely timely.”

“From having somebody on call to having somebody in position, the outcome, the goal we’re looking at is basically halving the time, so twice as fast in terms of assessment of tsunami threat down to about 15 minutes is the goal, and twice as accurate.”

The monitoring would largely take place at GNS Science’s Lower Hutt headquarters, with a smaller operation at Wairakei as a backup for volcanic events.

The primary focus would be monitoring the risk from tsunami, which were “very rare but if it happens catastrophic”.

Asked whether the Government had been too slow to set up 24/7 monitoring, Goldsmith said it had been working on the hazards monitoring system for sometime.

“There’s always room for improvement: I’m not an expert on the actual details of the Kaikoura quake.

“If they’re very close to shore then the critical thing is if it’s long and strong, get gone, because no system will be fast enough to deal with close in-shore tsunami, so this is really at the regional level getting faster progress.”

Interim funding of $3m last December had allowed GeoNet to make some initial improvements to its tsunami modelling tools, train additional staff on how to use them, and repair a tsunami detection buoy in the Kermadec trench.

Monday’s announcement was an important step forward, he said.

“The simple way to describe it is going from what we have at the moment which is having somebody on call, to having somebody at the desk - I think it’s a good step to take and it’s absolutely timely.”

Goldsmith said the 24/7 service would be funded within the $19.5m over four years allocated for hazards monitoring in May’s Budget, with the service expected to cost $6m each year once it was up and running.

The funding would cover an increased number of specialists monitoring information, along with improvements to GeoNet's network of monitoring instruments, hazard modelling and operations centre.