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Making New Zealand Safer

The Government has approved a multi-million dollar funding package through the Earthquake Commission [EQC] to upgrade the surveillance system for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other geological hazards.

The EQC will contribute $5 million a year for at least 10 years to the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd which will be responsible for the GeoNet project.

The first $5 million instalment will be paid in the current 2000-2001 financial year.

Announcing the GeoNet initiative today, Finance Minister Michael Cullen said the investment was much-needed and would provide a stable funding base with the possibility of attracting in other contributors.

"Much of our existing hazard monitoring equipment is decades old and is increasingly difficult to maintain. It is fragmented and inadequate to provide the rapid and reliable information that would be needed in an emergency.

"The public welfare demands a more coordinated and certain approach," Dr Cullen said.

Better intelligence would reduce loss of life by permitting a quicker and more effective response to emergencies. It would also enable the EQC to process claims more efficiently.

"New Zealanders should feel safer as a result of this announcement today. Ours is a young country geologically and the risks of geological disturbance are high.

"New Zealand is exposed to one of the greatest levels of volcanic hazard on the planet. We are also highly vulnerable to earthquake activity.

"The Wellington fault has a recurrence interval of 500 to 800 years for large earthquakes and last ruptured about 600 years ago. The Alpine fault, which may rupture over a length of 450km, has recurrence intervals of 100 to 300 years and last ruptured about 270 years ago.

"I say this not to alarm but to underline the need for vigilance," Dr Cullen said.

The funding would buy:
„h seismographs to measure the size and location of earthquakes
„h Global Positioning System [GPS] equipment to pinpoint where the earth's crust is deforming
„h seismic, chemical and GPS equipment to provide early detection of volcanic unrest in the North Island
„h seismic recorders for buildings, bridges and other structures to provide data on how they perform in an earthquake.

"Most of the instruments have been tested over the last three years in a pilot programme and have performed well in New Zealand conditions.

"The upgrade will be phased in steadily over several years. When fully in place, the upgraded network will enhance the ability of scientists to detect and interpret the early indicators of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

"It will help save lives and reduce suffering by allowing communities to recover more quickly from a crisis. I cannot think of a better use for the money," Dr Cullen said.

Ends

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