Follow by Email

Friday, April 29, 2011

Behind the scenes @GeoNet

Behind the scenes @GeoNet

12:58 PM Friday Apr 22, 2011
On a gloomy, wet, day inside a quiet office in Lower Hutt, a handful of people go through data on their computers to produce something tens of thousands of us have grown to rely on almost every day - the size and depth of the latest earthquakes from around Christchurch and NZ.

This is the office of GeoNet - a brand that was hardly a household name just 9 months ago but now it's one that many of us hear mentioned every day. For those of us who use social media, especially Twitter, the GeoNet logo has become as common as the Twitter logo itself.

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Wellington to meet with Kevin Fenaughty, GeoNet Data Centre Manager to discuss how GeoNet has stood up to their first real test in over 20 years.

The last big damaging quake in New Zealand was the Edgecumbe earthquake on March 2 1987 (also a 6.3 quake). Of course back then we didn't have the internet let alone Twitter and Facebook. Many of us didn't even own a computer. And Edgecumbe, despite being badly damaged, was only a small town and simply doesn't compare to what has happened in Christchurch with so much death and destruction.

In fact while the magnitude rating of the February 22 Christchurch earthquake wasn't extremely high, the force, or energy, that came from it was simply incredible - scientists say it may have been one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded on the entire planet.

The ground acceleration from this earthquake was two times the speed of gravity, whereas the earthquake last September was the same as gravity. This is a phenomenal statistic and partially explains why so buildings collapsed.

But going back to the magnitude 7.1 quake which rocked Canterbury at 4:35am on Saturday September 4, 2010, - when this hit no one at GeoNet actually knew if their technology was ready to handle an explosion of web traffic - let alone how their staff would handle not one, but two massive earthquakes over the next 6 months.

"The internet has played right into our hands...from the start we put it all on the net" says Mr Fenaughty referring to their decision well over 10 years ago to put as much information up on their website.

This way the public could be educated on the quake while GeoNet's resources went into research, study and publishing the data. "We wanted to put every big earthquake and every earthquake that was felt on our website for people to see".

So how did their website cope with such a huge volume of traffic? - surprisingly, everything went without a hitch. "Our site stood up to both the September and February quakes" he said. To me this is remarkable - a website that has never truly been tested coped with the world's attention. There are other websites that cover weather or natural disaster emergencies here in New Zealand that fall over frequently - and they know their peak numbers.

Up until September 2010 if people felt an earthquake they would often contact Police or Civil Defence. More of us now know that we can access this quake data in a far more efficient manner via GeoNet, in near real time, when we feel, or hear about, an earthquake.

So, in this day and age - why is it near real time and not actually real time? "Every earthquake that goes up on our site, and therefore Facebook and Twitter too, has to be manually checked by one of our scientists" says Mr Fenaughty. But why? GeoNet doesn't get too many complaints but one of the common ones is why do they "hide" some information. What aren't they telling us?! "We have 15,000 earthquakes every year, there is no point in having a big list of many of those quakes aren't even felt" says Mr Fenaughty.

Not only that but just like weather computer models the computers and seismographs can only tell you so much.
Data Centre Technician Jennifer Coppola explained why that was. She says when a quake occurs, a number of seismographs (the number depends on the magnitude of the earthquake) pick up the motion. "Data that all our seismographs record are continuously being transmitted to our computer hub via satellite link, but to "trigger" an earthquake, certain configurations of stations and magnitudes need to occur. Of these triggered events, duty officers are alerted to the larger earthquakes right away, when certain thresholds are exceeded. They publish the results to our website".
Usually a week or so later, analysts review all triggered events, including the ones for which the duty officers have already derived a preliminary solution.

Once all the data are in it's Ms Coppola's job - and others - to more accurately compute the quake's size and depth. The computers are bang on in some areas, not so flash in others. Humans are still needed. Humans are also needed to work out if that blip was an earthquake or just a truck rumbling past a seismograph. If that truck caused a spike on a graph and it was then instantly displayed online the public may panic - or worse still, loose faith in the data coming out of GeoNet.

With so many aftershocks Ms Coppola and the team at GeoNet are only now just seeing the light, from several weeks of checking and double checking all of the earthquakes. It's this extra work that meant some of the sizes of quakes get revised days or even weeks later - as we saw recently in Japan when the USGS said it was 8.9, then raised it to 9.0.

GeoNet is not staffed 24/7. In fact there's a team of seven or eight duty officers who, over the past several months, have had similar experiences to parents of a newborn baby with many restless nights.

When an earthquake strikes at two in the morning the computers work out two things - 1) How big was it? 2) Are people likely to have felt it? If yes to both questions the computer sends an urgent message to the pager of the duty officer currently on the roster. This duty officer wakes up, turns on their laptop and goes through the fairly short process of double checking if the computer was right.

Once a scientist has verified it, it is posted to the internet and social media websites. So every update you see has been verified by a human being. From the very shallow 2.5 quake in Christchurch to the big 6.8 quake 300kms deep under the earth's surface. They check them all.

With the hundreds and hundreds of aftershocks since Sept 4 and again since Feb 22 this fairly small team has had many restless nights.

During the immediate days and weeks following both of these powerful quakes it was normal to be woken four or five times a night - and every time that pager goes off they must turn on the computer, check the data, verify it, then upload to the website. Broken sleeps are a way of life for the GeoNet team these days, although with things starting to slowly quiet down hopefully their sleeps - along with the residents of Christchurch - are getting longer and less interrupted . This team is acutely aware of the many thousands of people who now rely on them every day. Certainty, of any kind, is so important in these uncertain times.

On the GeoNet website people are asked to fill out a form when they've felt a quake. I was curious as to who reads all those reports. Again, it's the computers. Those reports go into a specialised computer database and using an algorithm they are converted into intensity values of how that quake was felt and where it was felt, then that is displayed on the website.

It's not just the public that have found GeoNet so helpful over these past several months. Those in the media that I've spoken to have high praise for them too. Not only are GeoNet working the long hours and giving many of us comfort at any hour of the day when the ground has moved, but they 'get it' when it comes to dealing with the public. Everything is freely available to the public. It is for the good of the people.

They enjoy speaking to the media too and found it particularly distressing when the Ken Ring saga emerged and for no factual reason the scientific community was painted as "evil" by a number of New Zealanders who jumped in to defend an old man being yelled at by John Campbell.

Whenever I hear people saying "don't trust the scientific community" I can't help but think we're back in the days of burning witches and the earth is flat.

From my point of view the Ring drama was a media creation - and then the media turned on him. Ring's a nice fellow but didn't help his cause by flip flopping and denying his own actual quotes.

As I said before during uncertain times we climb to any certainty - even if that certainty is likely to be false. Anything is better than nothing.

But GeoNet has forecast the aftershocks - and with high accuracy. They are the only ones with a consistent track record that I'm aware of.

During significant earthquake events we can trust that everything important will be on their website - that their website will stand up to the traffic - and that the information is free. This isn't the case with all our scientific departments in this country - but the GeoNet team, and the Government, has their priorities in the right order here.

The GeoNet story is one that we, as New Zealanders, should be proud of. They have forecast the aftershocks since September 4 with high accuracy. Their website stood up to unprecedented web traffic following two massive earthquakes, including our costliest and deadliest in 80 years, without overloading and crashing. All of this, from a quiet office in Lower Hutt... and from the homes of those duty officers in the middle of the night when the earth wakes them up.

Social Media Stats

Sara Page is the Outreach Coordinator for the GeoNet Project. Sara's the human being behind the GeoNet Facebook and Twitter websites - and often the one that replies to your questions.


GeoNet joined Facebook in March 2010 following the Chilean tsunami. They were asking for people's photos and videos, to better understand the effects of Tsunami in NZ from offshore quakes.. At this stage they had around 400 followers. After the Sept 4th quake it rocketed to 4000 followers.

As of today GeoNet are up to 7,760 followers and have a steady stream of comments and queries via the homepage and discussion tab. "It can get pretty full on, and at the moment its mostly myself doing it in my free time" says Sara Page.

Ms Page says the hardest thing they've found so-far is that Facebook and Twitter aren't Nine to Five. "If there is a large event I'll jump on and add comments and make sure people know we are working on the earthquakes location etc. and keep the questions answered. We are looking into a way to better 'man' this resource in the future".


As of today they have 5,770 followers on Twitter and they are frequently re-tweeted. All of the earthquakes posted from the website go automatically to Twitter and Facebook.

GeoNet also recently created two new Twitter accounts @geonet_above4 and @geonet_above5 as people were sick of getting all of the earthquake texts.

Event tells tourists the 'open' sign is up

Event tells tourists the 'open' sign is up

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2011
Christchurch businesses are eager to entice tourists back to the city through a special event at Riccarton Racecourse today.

About 20 companies, including the International Antarctic Centre, are taking part in the "Christchurch is Open" event, which will feature displays about the activities being offered. People attending will get discounts on the activities.

The band Ctrl-Alt-Rock and musician Stephen Aroha will play.

"We want to send out positive messages about tourism in Christchurch," said Steve Wilson, of Special Eyes.

"Businesses are really ready to welcome back tourists to Christchurch," he said.

International Antarctic Centre marketing manager Wendy Cowan said visitor numbers had dropped 30 to 35 per cent.

"We haven't suffered as much as some of the other businesses," she said.

Overseas tourists made up about 70 per cent of the centre's visitors.

Businesses taking part include Black Cat Cruises and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.

The event will be streamed live, allowing people from around the world to watch.

It is free for tourists staying at the seven backpackers that are open in Christchurch after the earthquake.

There are 250 tickets available and only ticket-holders will be able to attend. Buses will pick up tourists at the backpackers. Wilson said they were considering holding something for Christchurch residents.

"Christchurch is Open" starts at 7pm and ends at 12.30am tomorrow. More information can be found at

Chance for residents to have say on rebuild

Chance for residents to have say on rebuild

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2011
Christchurch residents will be able to say how they want the central city rebuilt at a two-day forum next month.

The community expo, to be held at the CBS Canterbury Arena on May 14 and 15, will ask residents to share their ideas on how to tackle the massive project.

The Christchurch City Council has been charged with leading the inner-city recovery. The expo will be one of the first chances residents have to share their ideas on shaping the central city.

Mayor Bob Parker said he wanted as many people there as possible.

"We need everyone's ideas if we are to create a central city where people want to live, work and play," he said.

"The economic and social success of Christchurch relies on us having a vibrant and prosperous central city, and we can only have that if everyone shares their ideas."

Parker said there would be a range of views. From this "wealth of ideas", a draft plan would be crafted to reflect the city's vision.

Residents had until the end of June to share their ideas before the draft plan was released for public feedback.

The final plan would be given to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority in December for sign-off, Parker said.

Donor to fund US quake trip

Donor to fund US quake trip

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2011
A mystery donor looks likely to save Christchurch ratepayers thousands of dollars by paying for several city councillors to go on an international earthquake fact-finding mission next month.

It emerged yesterday that up to half of Christchurch's 14 city councillors – instead of the original three – may visit San Francisco.

The Press understands an announcement will be made early next week confirming the extended trip, the expanded group and who is contributing towards its cost.

The donation means councillors will not need to dip into their annual $4000 training allowance used for professional development.

Three councillors, Aaron Keown, Tim Carter and Jamie Gough, were originally planning to leave tomorrow for a whirlwind four-day trip to see how the American city recovered from its devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

It is now understood that up to four other councillors are expected to leave Christchurch with the trio on Monday, May 16, after a two-day weekend expo the council will run to get public views on rebuilding the central city.

Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button is believed to be confirmed but said she saw "value" in the trip.

Keown said the change of date meant councillors could "pack more into our itinerary".

The delegation will meet with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, other city officials and experts who were involved in rebuilding parts of the city after the magnitude-6.9 quake.

Keown hoped councillors would pay their own accommodation and food to avoid being accused of "taking a junket" on the ratepayer.

A former city councillor, Gail Sheriff, was slammed last year for taking a ratepayer-funded trip to San Diego to attend a sandcastle-building competition so she could research a similar event for Christchurch. The public fallout prompted her to stand down at last year's elections.

But Keown described any criticism levelled at the upcoming trip as "bizarre".

Councillors would be heavily involved in making key decisions facing post-earthquake Christchurch, he said. "So it will be useful to have those discussions over there so we can make good decisions."

Many lessons learnt, says post-quake boss

Many lessons learnt, says post-quake boss

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2011
John Hamilton went from being a Wellington bureaucrat to taking control after New Zealand's biggest natural disaster and back again in less than three months. Ben Heather reports.

Outgoing Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton regrets not acting faster after the February 22 earthquake, promising a better response to New Zealand's next major disaster.

Hamilton flew back to Wellington yesterday, his time as the most powerful man in Christchurch almost at an end, officially finishing today.

It has not been plain sailing for Civil Defence since it took control in Christchurch, with controversy surrounding unauthorised demolition work and business owners becoming so enraged they stormed the central-city cordon to gain access.

Hamilton was criticised, with claims he had taken an almost dictatorial approach.

Sitting in an empty Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium where he has held court before the media, Hamilton is relaxed about relinquishing power and returning to his day job as director of Civil Defence.

"I'd like to think you can draw a line under this episode and say I've done my bit."

He was less comfortable when asked to judge his performance in the quake response. "I'm all right. I have some personal frustration about things we could have done better."

The problem with distribution of portaloos in the early weeks was one of his biggest regrets, he said. Despite an adequate supply of toilets, some quake-wrecked streets never received portaloos.

"The portaloos – they are going to be the bane of my life, I think. That was a frustration for me because there was a bunch of people out there that weren't well served."

Allowing access to the central city for residents and business owners was too slow, with a proper system established only after much public criticism, he said.

"We were slow in getting our procedure right for access for businesses and residents into the red zone," he said.

"I can attribute those results to all sorts of things in hindsight, but, of course, hindsight is bloody good."

Hamilton is a military man. He started his career in the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1971 and climbed from helicopter pilot to chief of the air force in 2002.

In 2006, he became the director of Civil Defence, charged with improving New Zealand's preparedness for a natural disaster.

Hamilton's conversation is marked by military reference, and his style of leadership since the quake has been unashamedly hierarchical.

Early on, with people being rescued from buildings and swaths of the city without basic services, this was the right approach, he said.

However, as time wore on a shift was needed.

"Because of my military background, I apply a military approach to it, rightly or wrongly. I think it's right in the urgency of the response, but that approach doesn't work in the recovery side of things."

His military background set him up for frustration because a group of enthusiastic Civil Defence volunteers did not respond with the same rigid discipline as military personnel.

"One of the frustrations would be building a team together out of a raft of different people who have never done this s... before," he said. "A huge number of them were highly enthusiastic and energetic volunteers and most welcome, but it tends to slow things down."

Hamilton has been involved in many military operations, but nothing compares with the scale of the Christchurch quake.

His closest previous experience was organising, although not commanding, the first deployment of troops to East Timor.

"In my service career, I'd never been exposed to managing something as broad and as deep as this. You can't possibly be on top of all the bits and pieces going on in the response on any one day."

When the conversation shifts to his return to Wellington, Hamilton becomes more enthusiastic.

His job for the foreseeable future will be taking the lessons learnt in Christchurch and applying them to the rest of New Zealand.

"I think it absolutely vital that other councils have the benefit of Christchurch's unfortunate experience."

One of the most obvious gaps is an inadequate focus on recovering from disaster beyond the initial response, which could require broader legislative change similar to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act.

Councils needed to be more flexible, ready to "up sticks" and move their emergency operations anywhere, he said.

"You need to have a standby operation centre because not everyone has an art gallery."

Desperate central Christchurch business owners unable to access their premises should serve as a warning to every New Zealand business that vital information needs to be backed up remotely, he said.

If the long-anticipated quake struck Wellington, it would be far messier than in Christchurch, he said.

With only three routes into Wellington, including the Ngauranga Gorge running along the fault line, whole communities would be cut off and essential services would be much harder to restore.

"The water supply crosses the fault line six times between the reservoir and downtown, and whole suburbs would be isolated," he said. "What that says for Wellington is, `Boy, you better have your plans sorted out as to how you're going to deal with it'."

There were lessons in Christchurch for other countries, and the recovery was being watched with international interest.

Hamilton will accompany Civil Defence Minister John Carter to the World Reconstruction Conference in Geneva next month and expects to liaise with other countries on the quake response.

"This is huge international interest from developed countries on how we get on with this," he said.

The powerful new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) will assume many of Civil Defence's roles and will be watched closely by other nations.

Hamilton will not be drawn on whether Cera is the right model, but says its priority should be engaging with the Christchurch community.

"Don't just do it; have a conversation about it," he said. "If you don't have this engagement with the community, the process not only gets bogged down, but you won't get acceptance by the community of the plans and your whole recovery strategy is put at risk."

Without this approach, Cera could fall victim to the same criticism levelled at Hamilton – overzealous and dictatorial.

 Editorial A21

- The Press

Quake exodus fears not realised

Quake exodus fears not realised

Last updated 05:00 27/04/2011
Fears of an earthquake-driven exodus from Christchurch have been dispelled by a new study.

At worst, up to 8000 people may leave the city in the year after the February 22 quake, the report said.

Estimates soon after the quake suggested up to 70,000 people had temporarily fled the city, with some experts saying 4 per cent of the city's population – about 16,000 residents – could stay away for a year.

The report, commissioned by the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), used population data from other natural disasters, such as the Kobe earthquake in Japan, Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, to assess the quake's possible impact on Christchurch's population.

The study found that population levels were likely to change by no more than 2 per cent in the year after the quake and could even increase as construction workers arrived for the rebuilding effort.

The study's author, Tom Love, of Australasian consulting firm Sapere Research Group, said many residents had commitments in the city that could not be easily broken.

"People are tied to their location through employment, home ownership and a whole bunch of things like that, and those are really strong ties."

He said the city's long-term population growth would lessen the impact of quake-related migration.

Migration tended to be "highly localised" to badly hit areas, and some residents who left their homes would relocate in unaffected areas of the city.

Population decreases were likely to be more noticeable in areas with significant damage, while poorer residents were more likely to leave the city and for longer periods, Love said.

"If you're lower down the socioeconomic scale, you're less likely to have your own home or have long-term employment, so there's less tying you to the area."

He said the initial estimate of 70,000 departures was highly unlikely to be reached.

The figure could have been inflated by a "certain amount of panic" after the quake.

"The immediate perception was that a whole bunch of people went away from areas like the eastern suburbs, but there were more people who stayed there that we didn't think were around," he said.

Statistics New Zealand figures on school enrolments indicated that 8.9 per cent of Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn pupils had re-enrolled outside the three areas after the quake.

That number had since dropped to 6.4 per cent, and Love believed it would continue to fall as the city's recovery continued.

CDHB planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said the board, which is funded on a population basis, had commissioned the study to determine how it allocated health resources.

"We wanted to know how many people we needed to provide services for, where people are and where they might end up."

She was not surprised by the study's findings as a "quick look at the literature" on the topic had suggested that many would return.

The board would be "rebalancing" resources to account for population decreases in badly hit areas and would focus on providing support to disadvantaged families.

"The vulnerable populations get hit extra hard, so it's important that we do what we can to make sure that doesn't happen in Canterbury," she said.

Mayor Bob Parker said the study was "very reassuring news" for residents.

He said the city could use the rebuild to gain a "competitive edge" over other parts of the country.

- The Press

Cera to assume control of city

Cera to assume control of city

Last updated 05:00 28/04/2011
The national state of emergency in Christchurch will be lifted within days, with Civil Defence making way for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).

The authority has been extending its reach for three weeks, with 30 staff moving into a Papanui office block and interim chief executive John Ombler attending several community recovery meetings.

Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton said the state of emergency was unlikely to be extended beyond Saturday, and could end before then.

Civil Defence had spent the past few weeks bringing the new authority up to speed to ensure a smooth transition, he said.

"Our challenge is to give Cera an indication as to where we are today so they don't go into these things cold," he said.

Cera will have more powers than Civil Defence, being able to forcibly acquire land and override council decisions.

"They have got broader powers because of the nature of the stuff that's going to take place, especially around urban development," Hamilton said

Ombler said Cera would assume many of Civil Defence's responsibilities in central Christchurch, including managing the cordon and building demolition.

"I would hope that people would not notice any difference," he said. "We have been working with the city council to make sure there is clarity around the roles so nothing falls through the cracks."

Improving social wellbeing in quake-hit suburbs and returning economic activity to the central city would be the main aims, Ombler said.

In the longer term, Cera would develop a recovery plan encompassing strategies for everything from education to business activity, he said.

Mayor Bob Parker said the council would resume its roles in managing and repairing infrastructure, such as the water and sewerage systems, and processing resource and building consents.

It would also be responsible for developing an inner-city recovery plan, although, as with almost everything, Cera would have the final call.

Parker said the handover to Cera would be a milestone in the quake recovery, marking a shift to the rebuilding phase.

The council would continue to control most of the day-to-day business of running the city, including repairing the shattered infrastructure, rebuilding the central business district and managing council facilities, he said.

Cera would step in when government funding or regulatory change was needed and would have a close relationship with the council, he said.

Cera's staff come from the private sector, the city council, Environment Canterbury, the Canterbury Development Corporation and government departments. Ombler said many staff had been involved in the quake response in different roles from September and he hoped they would stay on.

Rebuild must 'respect' waterways

Rebuild must 'respect' waterways

Last updated 05:00 27/04/2011
Central Christchurch should not be rebuilt to its former density, a landscape architect says.

Di Lucas said 19th-century surveying maps showed a network of waterways and wetlands under the central city that could not support a built-up central business district.

She cited an 1850s map that showed several tributaries either side of the Avon River.

"It [the map] has the streams on it for the central city, and it's quite a precise layout. It's quite detailed," Lucas said.

When transposed on to the present-day central city, the waterways mirrored some of the areas of worst earthquake damage, she said.

A stream that crossed Manchester St, between Salisbury and Peterborough streets, cut a swath under buildings and the street itself.

"You could plot that line right through all the way," she said.

"There's some very good solid apartments, two or three storeys high, and one block of it has sunk a metre and another block is more or less as it used to be.

"That line continues through the next block and it goes from there and does a drop in Manchester St of a metre."

She said it was "madness" to have intensive building so close to the Avon River on streets such as Fitzgerald Ave.

"They're encroaching and nature has rebelled," Lucas said.

"I think we need to respect the natural systems better."

Lucas favoured "daylighting" the waterways, saying the city could benefit from their exposure.

"We could have a natural corridor which would be better for the natural systems and be better for everybody."

Lucas supported the idea of a greenbelt on the banks of the Avon that connected Hagley Park to the coast, and a sparsely rebuilt central city not exceeding four storeys.

"The value of Christchurch is in a low-rise city," she said.

"High rises make it cold and draughty and horrible. Armagh St is horrible when the easterly blows.

"You don't need to see the sea from within the centre, you can sense it, and enjoy the micro-climate from low-rise environs."

Greening of roof space and more efficient use of rainwater were needed too, she said.

EQC lets insurers do many quotes

EQC lets insurers do many quotes

Last updated 05:00 27/04/2011
The Earthquake Commission will not visit many severely damaged homes, relying instead on private insurers.

The commission yesterday confirmed it would not visit some homes with damage exceeding $100,000, instead accepting private insurers' assessments, subject to a review.

The policy has been in place since the September earthquake. However, differences in how insurers measured damage led to varying valuations, leaving many quake-hit homeowners confused.

Canterbury event manager Reid Stiven said that since February 22, the commission had met insurers to create a standardised costing system.

"There were some huge disparities between what we costed, and it was about the methodologies used," he said.

"Since February 22, we've gone back to them [the insurers] and said, `Could we do this better?"'

The policy would apply only to severely damaged properties, and people would still have their land assessed by the commission, he said.

The commission had received 118,041 claims since February 22, bringing the claims total, since September 4, to 302,440.

The commission had also done "rapid assessments" on 180,000 Christchurch homes since February 22, classifying 12,000 as severely damaged, 8000 as possibly severely damaged and 40,000 as moderately damaged. About half of the severely damaged homes had now been fully assessed.

AMI has signed up to do full assessment on behalf of the commission, with chief customer officer Richard Hutton saying it could speed up house assessments.

"With the significant increase in claims, it's about trying to best utilise all available resources. We are trying to remove double-ups."

However, Hutton said the February quake would create its own insurance complications, particularly regarding which quake was responsible for damage. "It is much more confusing now."

IAG, which owns State and NZI, said it had signed up to do work on the commission's behalf on April 2 with the aim of streamlining the process for customers.

Tony King has been locked into a dispute with the commission since the September quake after receiving varying valuations on his Tuahiwi house.

AMI's structural engineers had assessed the damage at more than $300,000, but the commission insisted it was only $7500, sending him a cheque last month that he had refused to bank. "It is a big bloody difference," he said.

After lobbying through his MP, the commission agreed to send an assessor last month and he is waiting to see whether the two figures can be reconciled.

Street closed, but bills still come

Street closed, but bills still come

Last updated 05:00 27/04/2011
Cafe owners within Christchurch's red zone have been receiving council bills for using outdoor space despite their businesses being closed since February's earthquake.

Maria Sesun, whose husband Fred Sesun has run Pronto Cafe in New Regent St for 17 years, said the business had received three bills, worth $102 each, from the city council for using the footpath and street for dining since February.

However, the street had been cordoned since February 22.

Pronto Cafe, like other businesses that utilised footpath or street space, paid a monthly rent to the council.

However, Pronto did not expect to pay that rent while it could not operate.

"It's kind of a little bit of a sick joke, but I don't think it's intentional. I think it's just a breach in the system," Maria Sesun said.

The cafe did not have business interruption insurance and she did not want to think about having to pay the bill.

"We've no funds to pay it."

Sesun said her husband hoped to open the business when the street reopened, but they had no idea when that would be.

"There is really no timeframe."

She understood the street's buildings could be repaired.

Fred Sesun, 55, had been looking for another job in the meantime, but had been knocked back because of his age, his wife said.

"He was working seven days a week and then suddenly everything stops for him. He's really suffering."

Christchurch City Council leasing consultancy team leader Barry Woodland said the invoices had been automatically generated.

He urged cafe owners to disregard the invoices. Woodland said the council would not charge for any period when cafe owners could not use the space. New notices, with the credit adjustments, would be sent out, he said.

More heritage for chop

More heritage for chop

Last updated 16:11 27/04/2011
Two more Christchurch heritage buildings have been earmarked for demolition.

A Christchurch City Council building treatment status report shows seven buildings in central city suburbs have been marked for demolition, including two heritage buildings.

The Windsor Hotel on Armagh St and a residential building on Pentlow Place, both hold heritage status and have been labelled for demolition.

The five non-heritage buildings that will be demolished are Theme Pro on Byron St, OPSM on Hereford St, Canterbury Music Planet on Tuam St and an unnamed building on Waltham Rd.

Three buildings on Worcester St, Gloucester St and Tuam St will be partially demolished.

The report also shows three heritage buildings need to be "made safe", these include the Cranmer Courts on Kilmore St, Chan's Café on London St and The Christchurch Club on Worcester Street.

Brownlee seeks community reps

Brownlee seeks community reps

Last updated 05:00 28/04/2011
Christchurch community representatives are being sought for a new earthquake group that will report to the Government.

Yesterday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee called for expressions of interest from people wanting to join a community forum to be formed under the new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act. Brownlee said he was looking for representatives of community-based groups.

Under the act, Brownlee must invite at least 20 people who are "suitably qualified" to take part in the forum.

"The intention is to involve a range of grassroots community, business, social and cultural interests in the forum," he said. "It will, in the main, be made up of non-elected persons who take a representative role in their communities."

The forum will give Brownlee information and advice on how the act is working across Canterbury.

Community-based organisations wanting to nominate someone should email a brief curriculum vitae of their nominee to by 5pm next Wednesday.

More power cuts loom for ChCh

More power cuts loom for ChCh

Last updated 12:24 29/04/2011
Christchurch residents need to brace themselves for more power cuts this winter, Orion says.

On Wednesday night about 12,000 homes in southern Christchurch lost power for up to four hours when an earthquake damaged underground cable shut down a substation.

Orion general manager commercial Rob Jamieson said city customers needed to prepare themselves for the occasional loss of power in the coming months, especially if Christchurch continues to be rattled by aftershocks.

Jamieson said the power network in the eastern suburbs was severely damaged and remained fragile.

He expected residents in those areas would experience three or four power cuts through winter, each lasting up to five hours.

A small number of badly damaged streets should expect frequent power cuts through winter, he said.

"We're doing everything we can to prevent power cuts for Christchurch residents, particularly those in the badly affected eastern suburbs," Jamieson said.

"Barring any further large aftershocks, with careful management, strategic deployment of generators and customers in the east doing their bit to conserve electricity, we hope to get through the winter with minimal disruption."

Recovery work to improve the network capacity in the east should be completed by July.

"We understand customers' frustrations regarding power outages, however we ask them to please be patient - we're working as hard as we can to keep the power on across our city," he said.

Ban on booze in two suburbs

Ban on booze in two suburbs

Last updated 05:00 29/04/2011
Alcohol has been banned from public places throughout Riccarton and Ilam until the end of November, and the ban could become permanent after that.

The Christchurch City Council crackdown on public drinking may be extended to Merivale-Papanui and Akaroa.

Councillors yesterday agreed to a temporary ban in the two western suburbs but rejected a call for a citywide ban.

Police and a community leader told the council a ban was needed in the Riccarton-Ilam area.

More people drink in the suburbs after the February 22 earthquake forced most inner-city bars to close.

The ban, which is scheduled to start on May 19, will run until November 30.

If research and feedback show the ban is working, it could become permanent in the two suburbs.

Senior Sergeant Peter Laloli said a total ban over the next six months, rather than having a 6pm to 6am ban, was easier to enforce. He said police would support a permanent ban in the area.

More than half of the police patrols now spend their shifts in those two suburbs.

Laloli rejected claims the patrols could compromise police resources that were needed across the city as officers could give warnings or issue court summons "on the spot".

Riccarton-Wigram Community Board chairman Mike Mora said residents "have had a gutsful" of alcohol-related trouble in their streets. "This [the ban] is what the people are asking for," he said.

Council staff said an investigation into possible bans in suburbs such as Merivale and Papanui could be finished next month.

The council agreed to a review of public drinking in Akaroa after Banks Peninsula councillor Claudia Reid tabled a 24-signature petition from residents and business owners wanting a ban there. Reid said "boorish" behaviour was not acceptable.

Ratepayers will have to pay about $16,000 for signs around Riccarton and Ilam to promote the temporary ban.

A motion from Shirley-Papanui councillor Aaron Keown calling for a one-year citywide alcohol ban did not win support.

Keown said the ban would stop alcohol-fuelled problems across the city, but council legal staff said only the Government had the power to introduce a citywide ban.

Councillors said they sympathised with Keown's motion but said staff had enough to do with a review of the Papanui, Merivale and Akaroa areas and consulting in the Riccarton-Ilam communities over the next six months.

The ban will apply 24 hours a day and seven days a week to all public spaces controlled by the council and to all roads, whether council-controlled or not.

It does not apply to places open to the public that are under private ownership, such as private car parks or private sports grounds.

University of Canterbury Students' Association president Kohan McNab could not be reached for comment last night.

Any public alcohol ban in Papanui will require the amendment of an existing bylaw.

- The Press

Quake memorials can be more than names in marble

Kobe lights the way

Quake memorials can be more than names in marble

Last updated 15:15 29/04/2011

Earthquake memorials can be more than names carved in marble. CHARLIE GATES learns how memorial art can lift spirits, raise money and attract people back to a shattered city.

Twinkling palaces of light and millions of people fill the streets of Kobe in Japan every year.

It looks more like a celebration than a requiem. But the dazzling displays of light are both.

Kobe was struck by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake on January 17, 1995. It was one of the most damaging earthquakes to strike Japan in the 20th century, killing more than 6000 people and causing US$100 billion of damage.

Within a year the Kobe Luminarie was born. An annual festival of lights that brings as many as four million people to Kobe, attracts $1.3 million in donations and raises $6.1m in sponsorship and merchandise sales.

The event has been held every year in December since 1995.

It was originally proposed as a "symbol of hope", said a spokesperson for the event.

"We first started the Kobe Luminarie as a requiem for the victims of the earthquake and as a symbol of hope and a dream of recovery and renovation for our city. Also, by holding this event, we could attract more tourists to Kobe since less people visited the city after the earthquake," they said.

"Also, we can tell the story of the earthquake to the next generation and symbolise the hope of the city and its citizens."

A festival of lights was chosen as a symbol of recovery.

"After the earthquake, many Kobe citizens had to live and survive in darkness for some days as the lifeline of electricity, gas and water supply was cut off. However, once that lifeline was recovered, stricken victims were deeply moved and given courage and hope by the lights. So, to light up the city with a festival of the lights was considered the best way to symbolise the hope and dream of recovery and renovation."

The festival has become a wildly successful memorial for the devastating 1995 quake and attracts tourists from all over the world.

It could also provide a creative example for Christchurch when it turns to a memorial for the February quake.

The Kobe experience proves that an earthquake memorial can be so much more than "putting out a piece of marble", it can be a living memorial that raises money, revitalises a city and brings life back to the streets.

Christchurch Public Art Advisory Group chairman Anthony Wright said art could play a leading role in the rebuild of the city.

"There is room for a range of memorials, it doesn't have to be confined to a particular form. It needs to go out to creative minds. Artists are a fantastic source of ideas for how we might memorialise the quake, he said.

"It is my view that art, heritage and culture are intrinsically bound up with the rebuild of the city. Art is a really important part of the fabric of our society. It has to be factored in.

"It is too early to be forming any ideas, given there is so much recovery work to do in the city centre, but the involvement of art and artists will be important."

Christchurch Arts Festival director Philip Tremewan agreed that memorials could be more than "putting out a piece of marble".

"Memorials can take many different forms and don't just have to be a lump of concrete. Kobe is a great example of a creative response," he said.

Creative New Zealand chief executive Stephen Wainwright said he was sure Christchurch's artistic community would come up with innovative ideas.

"That is the great thing about the creative sector, people are never short of really interesting and compelling ideas. If the idea of a memorial gets out to the community I would anticipate that there would be original and exciting things that come forward."

But the creative response in Kobe emerged in tandem with a more traditional memorial. A silent prayer is offered to the victims of the quake at the opening ceremony of the Kobe Luminarie and the official memorial monument is open late at night during the event.

A traditional memorial marking what happened to Christchurch in February and the names of those who died is an essential civic element of any artistic response to the quake.

"There will be a prominent marker of some art saying this is what happened and this is who died," said Tremewan.

The form of that official memorial is being discussed by central government, Christchurch City Council, police, the coroner's office and the families of the dead "to determine an appropriate memorial site for all victims of the earthquake, as well as any burial sites which may be required", a council spokeswoman said.

Memorial options will be debated by Christchurch city councillors in a workshop next month.

"The details of the proposal are yet to be confirmed and a range of options will be discussed first with families" the spokeswoman said.

"The wishes of family members, both from New Zealand and overseas, are of the utmost importance in the memorial and burial planning processes. This is something that the mayor thinks is important for the city, but there are still a number of details that need to be worked through to ensure whatever is decided upon would be appropriate."

Mayor Bob Parker said families of the dead will need to guide the process, but recovery was still the main priority for the city.

"It is just too soon to be into speculation about where we might do it. Let's get a little bit of water under the bridge first.

"It is clear that some kind of memorial will be appropriate, but where it is and how it should be is something that needs to be discussed with families a year out from this event," he said.

"It is something we must do, but something that needs to wait for a while. Let's get the water back and the wastewater back first. I haven't turned my mind to this as there are many other priorities at this time."

But Kobe has proved that a swift artistic response to an earthquake can be an incredibly positive influence on a quake-ravaged city. The first Luminarie was held just 11 months after the 1995 earthquake.

Clearly, the idea of a festival of lights has already been taken, but it could act as a challenge to the Christchurch arts community to come up with a unique, Kiwi response to our disaster. Something creative and positive in the face of so much destruction.

The Luminarie could light the way for all quake-hit cities and show how Christchurch can sparkle once again.

- The Press

172 council jobs lost

172 council jobs lost

Last updated 17:06 29/04/2011
About 170 council staff will lose their jobs under council redundancy plans.

Christchurch City Council staff employed at facilities that were extensively damaged in the 22 February earthquake and remain closed indefinitely were this week advised their roles would be disestablished, a council statement said.

Following the earthquake, a number of council facilities are closed and are unlikely to re-open in the foreseeable future.

A total of 172 staff, most based at the damaged QEII Park and Centennial Recreation and Sport Centres, have received change proposals, the statement said.

The plans outline why the roles have been disestablished and opportunities for re-deployment within the Council. All staff will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes.

General Manager Community Services Michael Aitken said the Council was committed to preserving as many jobs as possible and was currently looking at options for re-deploying affected staff to another role or another part of the organisation. Redundancy would be a last resort.

"To secure their jobs, staff may have to accept a different role to what they were doing before the earthquake. The Council will be matching skills with areas where work needs to be done post-earthquake. In a bid to secure as many jobs as possible, the Council has also put on hold much of its recruitment while it looks at all options.

"We recognise this is an extremely difficult time for our staff, many of whom are going through personal hardship at this time, but we are certainly aiming to minimise the number of redundancies and to protect jobs wherever possible."

Affected staff have been mainly working in Civil Defence roles since the earthquake occurred.

Of the 172 affected staff, 156 were based at QEII Park and Centennial Recreation and Sports Centres, 12 at QEII Park Pre-school and four at Our City O-Tautahi and the Canterbury Provincial Buildings.

Kaiapoi houses on park

Kaiapoi houses on park

Last updated 05:00 29/04/2011
A Kaiapoi sports ground will become the temporary home for the first of more than 200 earthquake-hit Waimakariri residents.

The cluster of 25 units, for people forced to relocate from Kaiapoi, Pines Beach and Kairaki because of September quake damage, will be built on the Kaiapoi Domain.

Waimakariri District Mayor David Ayers said yesterday up to 200 units would be needed at the height of the rebuild, which would take up to three years.

"This is just the beginning of what we need. The first areas [to be remediated] are quite small, and we know some people will have their own places to go to," he said.

The homes, to be built by Spanbild, will be in use by June, although the site's design has not been finalised.

Disruption to other residents was expected to be minimal, Ayers said.

Keeping relocated residents near shops, schools, friends and family was necessary, but using sports fields was not the preferred option, he said.

"Sports are important to the community," he said. "There are junior rugby league fields [at the domain], but we should be able to work around that."

The domain will house the first cluster only, with the council looking to private landowners to help house the rest. Ayers was "hopeful" the space would be offered.

"We need to have land which we can get sewerage and water to quickly," he said.

"From the point of view of keeping the Kaiapoi commercial centre going, we certainly don't want to move more people out of Kaiapoi."