9 Oct 2009

Tsunami response was better, says Civil Defence

11:36 am on 9 October 2009

The head of Civil Defence says his ministry's response to the latest tsunami alert was a vast improvement on its performance of a week ago.

Major earthquakes off Vanuatu on Thursday prompted a Pacific tsunami warning, covering New Zealand, lasting about two hours.

Following last week's destructive tsunami in the South Pacific, an independent review is to look into the poor communications from the Ministry of Civil Defence.

Director John Hamilton says since then some initial areas for improvement have been identified.

"Primarily the difference has been with the speed and the ability to make strong connections with various media outlets to enable us to swiftly get our messages to the public," he says.

Wellington International Airport, which received no warning last week, said communication was extremely thorough on Thursday via text, email and phone calls.

Civil Defence 'overrreacted'

Northland-based seismologist Chris Buckley says the 7.8 magnitude earthquake off Vanuatu was not the sort that triggers a tsunami and civil defence authorities overreacted.

Dr Buckley says the ground moved horizontally, rather than vertically, which means the sea was not displaced as it is when a tsunami is triggered.

Last week, the seismologist criticised civil defence authorities for cancelling a tsunami warning just as the waves arrived at Tutukaka, near Whangarei.

Mr Hamilton said civil defence receives information from a number of sources and takes advice from GNS and NIWA scientists.

He said the ministry would would much rather be cautious in its advice to the public than to underestimate.