Five years on since our first earthquake in what became the Canterbury 2010 – 2011 earthquake series, it’s appropriate to stop and reflect for a moment.
Little did we know then that the first big shake (a 7.1 that woke most of the population and devastated roads, buildings and infrastructure) would be the start of thousands more quakes and that would dramatically change the face of the city, its commercial operations and its life. While that first event saw no loss of life, there would be tragedy to follow, with substantially more damage to the city’s fabric and confidence. It’s a situation from which Christchurch is still recovering. In many ways, progress has seemed to be excruciatingly slow and there has been heartbreak along the way.
Had we known about the major events that were to follow, would as many people have ’toughed it out’ over the next few years? How would that fore-knowledge have affected plans and hopes for the city?
However, the challenges our community faced also forced all of us into taking action.
Had it been an isolated event, with a normal series of decreasing aftershocks, would we have seen the same progress that has been made in research, development and practical responses to seismic events and their aftermath?
I doubt that without the thousands of quakes (as part of what many have called a ‘unique series of seismic events’) Christchurch would have attracted the ongoing local and international interest that it has in this field… or be in the position it is today as authority in the sector. Christchurch is now commonly referred to in the world of earthquake engineering as the “living laboratory”.
The University of Canterbury has been at the forefront of earthquake engineering for a long time, however the five years following 2010 have cemented the city as a ‘hub’ of knowledge in this area.
At the centre of this is our Quake Centre which aims to foster and co-ordinate knowledge from the most qualified academic and industry sources. Our goal is to identify and meet the needs of both the industry and those communities affected by earthquakes. It is something our team is passionate about.
I am very proud of the advances we have made in the wake of these quakes and the lessons we have learned, and we are now in the position where we are beginning to share some of the expertise and new knowledge we have built with our colleagues and supporters locally, nationally and internationally. When we travel to overseas conferences, people listen to what we say. Internationally, our research is highly respected. Our thinking is sought out because of its relevance and context.
However, put into context, we are only just beginning. Our labours are starting to bear fruit in practical, pragmatic ways and over time this will increase and our industry-focused outputs will grow and become more widely adopted. In time this will have a positive effect on strengthening the long-term earthquake resilience on New Zealand.
Being a successful amalgamation of the academic and commercial worlds, with both sectors actively involved in earthquake-related work on a daily basis, this has given us enormous strength and credibility. To have government, universities, local bodies and a broad cross-section of industry joining forces means we have a breadth and depth of commitment to develop resourceful, innovative and world-class seismic engineering solutions.
Five years on from our September 2010 earthquake I am humbled to be part of the new UC Quake Centre and to see the worthwhile contribution it is beginning to make to our partners, our community, our country and beyond.
We look back, tinged with sadness of what we have lost, but look forward to what we can contribute to the future for the benefit of New Zealand and beyond.