Learning from Christchurch: Technical Decisions and Societal Consequences in Post-Earthquake Recovery

Preliminary Research Findings August 2012
Josh E. Taylor, Stephanie E. Chang, Kenneth J. Elwood, Erica Seville, Dave Brunsdon
Resilient Organisations Research Report 2012/08

Executive Summary

The Canterbury earthquakes have presented decision-makers in New Zealand with difficult choices. The scale of the impacts relative to the national economy and the number of earthquakes have created challenges that are being felt nationally, and the disruption to Canterbury is expected to be long-term. During the response and recovery, different levels of Government have made decisions, often in uncharted waters, under tight time frames, and with significant consequences. This report presents preliminary findings from research on recovery-related decision-making. The objectives are to identify major decisions that have been made since February 2011 and to gain insights into which of those have been most important in the early recovery of Christchurch. The eventual goal is to share the experience of those in Christchurch with decision-makers in other earthquake-prone areas around the world.
Data was gathered from 23 key-informant interviews conducted in Christchurch and Wellington in May 2012. Interviews were conducted with knowledgeable representatives of government organisations, non-governmental organisations, community groups, and the insurance/reinsurance sector. Interview questions focused on four areas: recovery progress, critical decisions, challenges going forward, and lessons learned.
Interviewees were first asked for their perspective on how well recovery was progressing. On a 7-point scale (where 1= “extremely poorly” and 7= “extremely well”), the mean response (4.1) was near the midpoint of the scale. From the data, it appears that respondents who were involved with or provided input to decision-making generally rated progress more highly than those who were less involved in the process. Secondly, the interviews focused on identifying critical decisions to-date in the recovery. The decision to establish a recovery agency, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), emerged as by far the most important decision so far in the recovery. The decision to buy out residential properties in the Eastern Suburbs was identified as another key decision with significant implications for those in the affected areas. The management of the Cordon around the heavily damaged Central Business District, and the decision to maintain it for an extended period of time, was highlighted as the third most important decision. Interviewees were also asked to identify the central challenges going forward. Several themes emerged, including capital flight, uncertainty regarding insurance and social dislocation created by the earthquakes. Respondents also cited several areas for lessons learned, including the importance of creating an inclusive recovery, and of balancing local and external voices.

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