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Disasters: NZ 'ain't seen nothing' in 70 years

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Disaster specialist warns NZ 'ain't seen nothing' in past 70 years

A free public lecture will be given next week by a Massey University disaster researcher who says New Zealanders have become too complacent after 70 relatively benign years.

An intense curiosity about volcanoes at age 13 has turned into a life’s work on surviving disasters for David Johnston.

Dr Johnston (right), director of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research run by GNS Science and Massey, will give a public lecture titled And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Surviving Future Disasters in New Zealand on 2 October.

“I was fascinated with the [1980] Mt St Helen’s eruption when I was in third form,” Dr Johnston says. “And I guess I have continued with that, but now I get paid for my school projects.”

As well as supervising six doctoral students and teaching two emergency management papers at the university, he has ongoing national and international collaborative projects on tsunami warning options, and pandemic and earthquake preparedness.

“A lot of people seem to think of hazards and disasters from personal experience but we [New Zealanders] ain’t seen nothing yet," Dr Johnston says. "We have had a very benign 70 years. The good thing is it doesn’t bring death and destruction but it has lured people into a false sense of security. Sooner or later we will be hit by something beyond the experience of most New Zealanders.

"We all think we have more immediate things to deal with. We know what we need to do but assume we can always do it tomorrow. I want to make disaster preparedness part of mainstream activities, not an add-on. If people think about it, engage in it, and discuss it they are more likely to prepare. It’s actually about the community taking ownership.”

In his lecture, he will paint a picture of New Zealand’s history, and look at some of the lessons from overseas disasters.

“People talk about natural disasters but there’s actually nothing natural in a disaster. It’s the consequence of humanity and nature, and the interaction between the two.”

The lecture is at 6pm on 2 October in the University’s Wellington campus Museum Building Tokomaru theatrette. All are welcome but please indicate attendance by emailing with "Associate Professor Johnston" in the subject line.


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