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Published: 2009-06-05 00:00:00

New technology is helping Environment Waikato and Thames-Coromandel District Council with ongoing work to protect Whitianga and the wider Coromandel community from tsunami risk.

Environment Waikato coastal scientist Vernon Pickett presented the findings of a recent tsunami research project to the council’s environment committee meeting in Hamilton yesterday.

The report focused on Whitianga, showing how the town was likely to be affected by two different types of tsunami with the potential to strike the Coromandel coast – either a distant tsunami generated off the coast of Chile or southern Peru, or a local tsunami generated in the Kermadec trench off the east coast of New Zealand.

The study was made possible thanks to new computer software that allowed both scenarios to be modeled, demonstrating how waves would be likely to behave once they entered Mercury Bay, and how water would travel through the town.

Dr Pickett said the availability of new tools such as this modeling software would assist Environment Waikato and Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) with ongoing work to prepare for, and mitigate the impacts of, a potential tsunami.

Environment Waikato hazard manager Adam Munro told the committee work preparing the community from tsunami risk was already well underway, but the study would help by providing more accurate and detailed information.  It would assist with planning aspects such as pinpointing the best evacuation routes, promoting community awareness of tsunami risk and developing sustainable building codes in known hazard zones.

“At the moment our primary focus is on informing people and TCDC has been working with the community for the past 18 months to develop action plans and warning systems so people know what to do when a tsunami strikes,” he said.

“Over the long term, the detailed information we are collecting will help with decisions on how to protect key infrastructure like emergency services, hospitals, emergency centres, power stations and water treatment plants.

“It could also help with decisions on identifying multi-storey buildings suitable for vertical evacuation, retrofitting buildings, introducing land use controls in high-risk areas and reviewing the design of mooring structures to address problems caused by drifting boats.”

The research presented by Dr Pickett at today’s meeting was carried out by University of Waikato PhD student Gegar Prasetya and partly funded by Environment Waikato.

Dr Pickett said Whitianga and Mercury Bay had been chosen for the initial study because of existing risks associated with tsunami caused by the area's physical characteristics, and that Environment Waikato would be using modeling software to further investigate tsunami hazards for other Coromandel towns in the future.