Restoring our lifelines after last month’s monster quake
By Tommy Parker, group manager Highways and Network Operations, NZ Transport Agency.
Last month’s magnitude 7.8 monster earthquake wreaked havoc – isolating Kaikoura, cutting off access to some smaller rural communities in the upper South Island and bringing our capital city to a standstill.
Combined with the major flooding around the lower North Island that same week, NZ Transport Agency staff, our contractors and those working in our Transport Operations Centres were pushed to the limit.
I’m proud of how our teams responded.
Many people were out at first light every day over the days immediately following the earthquake, working hard to assess damage and clear slips to get roads re-opened.
Others worked long hours to establish a plan to take us forward from the havoc that had been wreaked on our South Island highways.
Everyone recognised it was crucial to re-connect communities that had been cut off and prioritised restoring access to the people in those communities.
Within the first three days of the earthquake, we established an alternative inland state highway route between Picton and Christchurch, via Murchison and the Lewis Pass.
Other initial recovery work included working with Kaikoura District Council to restore SH70, Culverden to Kaikoura and working on those closed sections of SH1, where it was safe to do so, to restore access for contractors and emergency services.
In the days immediately after the earthquake, much of our activity was guided by ensuring the safety of our crews, including risks from ongoing large aftershocks. This limited what we could do to establish what would be required to get SH1 repaired and open again.
We were unable to get geotechnical engineers onto the large slips to carry out inspections as early as we would have liked, as the area was still too unstable to guarantee safety. Until these geotechnical inspections were carried out, we were unable to establish the scale and complexity of the repair work required, and to understand the full extent of the damage to the road, bridges and tunnels underneath these slips.
What we do know is that the scale and complexity of these slips is unprecedented in New Zealand. The task ahead of us is huge and we expect it will take months to complete.
A number of the large slips which have come down on SH1 are likely to be as large, or larger, than the October 2011 slip, which closed SH3 through the Manawatu Gorge for several months. We are working with our contractors to deliver the recovery effort to best effect going forward.
We anticipate the alternative inland route between Picton and Christchurch will be the main state highway route from Picton to Christchurch for at least several
months. We will be investing additional time and resources to maintain this highway to the level required to safely cope with a significant increase in traffic.
These recent events have provided us with a reminder that life in New Zealand is often unpredictable, with earthquakes and flood events being part and parcel of life in Aotearoa. It’s important that we continue to plan long term to improve the resilience of these parts of our highway.
We have also been reminded that our people and their providers are hugely committed to keeping New Zealand’s vital lifelines open. This all the while managing their own homes and lives amidst the events of nature, and we owe them a huge vote of thanks.
Our public profile
By Peter Silcock, chief executive, Civil Contractors New Zealand
I am writing this sitting at home in Wellington early on the morning after the Kaikoura earthquake. I know that the staff of many contractors in the northern and central parts of the South Island will have left their families in the early hours of the morning as aftershocks were rocking the whole country, to start assessing and repairing the damage caused by the one of New Zealand’s largest quakes in recorded history.
Naturally the first priority is the safety of people and to allow emergency services to get access and essential supplies through to the worst affected towns and rural communities.
Thinking about those men and women it reminds me again about the heroes of the industry and how misunderstood the industry is. The general public does not immediately associate the contractors who manage their roading, water, energy and communications networks as providing an emergency response service. But of course they do and in many situations the traditional emergency services (fire, ambulance and police) cannot do their work until at least some form of communications and vehicle access has been restored. That is the work of our contracting men and women!
Contractors’ staff go out in all types of weather and emergencies; storms, floods and earthquakes. They go out when the rest of us are thankful to be able to stay in the relative security of our home and close to our family.
Over the next year Civil Contractors New Zealand is planning to harness the power of the whole industry to better promote the industry and what it does. The aim is to improve the public’s understanding so that they see beyond the person with the stop/go paddle or leaning on a shovel. It is about highlighting the diversity, innovation and commitment of our people, the amazing networks that we build and maintain, the technology we use every day, the way we develop innovative and practical solutions for complex problems and the satisfaction we get from working as part of a team to build something that is iconic and/or important to the community.
As an industry we have to make ourselves more attractive by accentuating the positive and talking about rewarding careers not just jobs. With over $110 billion of infrastructure to build over the next 10 years and 40,000 more staff required across the construction industry the current merry-go-round of skilled people moving from one company to another is not the answer. All contractors need to focus more on developing their own people from the bottom up.
We need training and development systems, such as civil trades that can grow our own future leaders and that offer a very clear career pathway no matter where people started from.
We need more innovative minds to come up with smart solutions for situations like Kaikoura. The quake has shown how vulnerable many parts of our state highway network are. Civil Contractors New Zealand has welcomed NZTA’s focus on the RoNS (Roads of National Significance) and more recently the Safety Improvements Programme. We believe that a similar focus on building the state highways network’s resilience is now needed.
The road between Picton and north Canterbury is an important but vulnerable piece of highway. This same section of SH1 was also closed in 2010 after a slip south of Kaikoura. While, assessments are still being undertaken it seems clear that it is likely to take some weeks to restore SH1 to a pre-quake condition.
It is important that this work gets done as soon as possible. But even then the road will still be vulnerable to slips, tsunamis and climate change related sea level changes. What we need is some smart and innovative thinking about how we can make the route more resilient and reliable.
One option may be a better developed inland route, but I am sure that some of our smart contractors and engineers can come up with some practical, effective and cost-efficient ways to make the road more resilient.
The government will need to look at the costs against the impacts that these closures are having on all businesses throughout the country (and not just the tourism businesses in Kaikoura) that rely on that route to transport goods between the South and North Islands.
As clients and contractors working together on the ‘shaky isles’ we need grow and develop our own innovative people with the technological know-how and practical skills that will enable us to build the resilient networks we need for our future.
Comparing shakes down south
Contractor contributor Hugh de Lacy found himself in the middle of another earthquake and filed this report.
This latest round of monster Canterbury earthquakes, beginning soon after midnight on November 14, was different from the 2010-2011 series that devastated Christchurch: they were not only more powerful and lasted longer, but they moved sideways where the earlier ones were like a vertical drop from a height.
The September 2010 quake just to the west of the city measured 7.1. on the Richter scale, and the two in quick succession that flattened Christchurch the following February rated 6.3 and 6.1, but the Kaikoura Quake – as it will probably be called – hit a massive 7.8, and was followed by a tsunami and a succession of aftershocks of more than 6.
Where the earlier quakes mostly lasted only a few seconds, the opening one of the new round went on for at least two minutes, and was too violent to sleep through.
A further complication was that, while the early quakes didn’t trigger tsunamis, the latest one did.
Within half an hour of the first quake hitting, the residents of Kaikoura, Kaiapoi and the coastal settlements along the South Island eastern seaboard were warned by the newly-installed sirens, and by Civil Defence staff in vehicles with loudspeakers, of an impending tsunami up to five metres high.
It was a case of fleeing to higher ground, and in Kaikoura this could only be effected by some people on foot.
Because the quake was centred in a low population area, there were only two fatalities compared to the 185 in February 2010, and, aside from in Wellington, transport and horizontal infrastructure, rather than buildings, were the worst affected.
The cost of the latest disaster is expected to run into the low billions, as compared to the $40 billion of damage done in 2010-2011, and has created a massive new workload for a civil construction sector that was just winding down after completing the bulk of the clean-up of Christchurch.
The latest quakes are also sure to compound the burgeoning rise of community mental health issues from the earlier quakes which were just beginning to manifest themselves, creating demands for additional government health funding for the region.
The resilience of the Christchurch and North Canterbury communities will be further tested in the aftermath of the latest quakes after more than six years of continual quakes and aftershocks.