Tsunami evacuation dynamics following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, to inform tsunami evacuation modelling for Banks Peninsula

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
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Thesis discipline
Disaster Risk and Resilience
Degree name
Master of Science
University of Canterbury
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Volume Title
Barnhill, Danielle

Recent global tsunami events have highlighted the importance of effective tsunami risk management strategies (including land-use planning, structural and natural defences, warning systems, education and evacuation measures). However, the rarity of tsunami means that empirical data concerning reactions to tsunami warnings and tsunami evacuation behaviour is rare when compared to findings about evacuations to avoid other sources of hazard. To date empirical research into tsunami evacuations has focused on evacuation rates, rather than other aspects of the evacuation process. More knowledge is required about responses to warnings, pre-evacuation actions, evacuation dynamics and the return home after evacuations. Tsunami evacuation modelling has the potential to inform evidence-based tsunami risk planning and response. However to date tsunami evacuation models have largely focused on timings of evacuations, rather than evacuation behaviours.

This Masters research uses a New Zealand case study to reduce both of these knowledge gaps. Qualitative survey data was gathered from populations across coastal communities in Banks Peninsula and Christchurch, New Zealand, required to evacuate due to the tsunami generated by the November 14th 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake. Survey questions asked about reactions to tsunami warnings, actions taken prior to evacuating and movements during the 2016 tsunami evacuation. This data was analysed to characterise trends and identify factors that influenced evacuation actions and behaviour. Finally, it was used to develop an evacuation model for Banks Peninsula. Where appropriate, the modelling inputs were informed by the survey data.

Three key findings were identified from the results of the evacuation behaviour survey. Although 38% of the total survey respondents identified the earthquake shaking as a natural cue for the tsunami, most relied on receiving official warnings, including sirens, to prompt evacuations. Respondents sought further official information to inform their evacuation decisions, with 39% of respondents delaying their evacuation in order to do so. Finally, 96% of total respondents evacuated by car. This led to congestion, particularly in more densely populated Christchurch city suburbs.

Prior to this research, evacuation modelling had not been completed for Banks Peninsula. The results of the modelling showed that if evacuees know how to respond to tsunami warnings and where and how to evacuate, there are no issues. However, if there are poor conditions, including if people do not evacuate immediately, if there are issues with the roading network, or if people do not know where or how to evacuate, evacuation times increase with there being more bottlenecks leading out of the evacuation zones.

The results of this thesis highlight the importance of effective tsunami education and evacuation planning. Reducing exposure to tsunami risk through prompt evacuation relies on knowledge of how to interpret tsunami warnings, and when, where and how to evacuate. Recommendations from this research outline the need for public education and engagement, and the incorporation of evacuation signage, information boards and evacuation drills. Overall these findings provide more comprehensive picture of tsunami evacuation behaviour and decision making based on empirical data from a recent evacuation, which can be used to improve tsunami risk management strategies. This empirical data can also be used to inform evacuation modelling to improve the accuracy and realism of the evacuation models.

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