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NZ Experts Visit Quake-Hit Seattle

5 MARCH 2001


Four New Zealand earthquake and emergency management specialists are in quake-hit Seattle this week to collect information relevant to New Zealand.

The New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Reconnaissance Team will study the operation of emergency services, the performance of strengthened and unstrengthened buildings, the performance of electricity, water and communications services, and the safety evaluation of buildings after the earthquake. They will also examine the effects of permanent ground deformation caused by the quake.

Thursday’s magnitude 6.8 jolt was Seattle’s biggest earthquake for 52 years and damage to buildings and roads has been estimated at US$1 billion (NZ$2.35 billion). The earthquake’s focal depth of 50km was a major factor in limiting casualties and damage.

NZSEE President David Brunsdon described the Seattle quake as a classic “moderate” earthquake in an area that had a number of geological similarities to the east coast of the North Island. Seattle’s “built environment” was also similar to New Zealand population centres.

Mr Brunsdon said the earthquake rupture occurred entirely within the subducting tectonic plate beneath Seattle. This type of damaging earthquake is statistically more likely in New Zealand than a quake that causes dramatic surface rupturing, therefore it is of particular interest to New Zealand. Seattle had active hazard awareness and earthquake risk mitigation programmes, and this pro-activeness had undoubtedly played a part in reducing casualties and property losses, he said.

The emergency management specialists on the team, from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, will be evaluating the effect that the mitigation programmes had on the response; the effectiveness of emergency planning; the co-ordination of emergency response, and management of the media and public information during the event.

Team members and their specialist areas are:
- Mr Dick Beetham, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited, engineering geology and seismology.
- Mr Graeme Beattie, Building Research Association of New Zealand, structural and building services.
- Ms Denzil Duncan, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, emergency management.
- Mr Barry Earl, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, emergency management.

Travel is being funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) which has a strong record of supporting NZSEE reconnaissance missions to overseas disaster areas. As with reconnaissance visits to Turkey and Taiwan, the team will share their findings with New Zealand colleagues at a series of public meetings on their return.


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