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New Zealand: VR Initiatives Enhance Tsunami Preparedness

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Based on the study, a team of geographers, Earth scientists and environmental scientists affiliated with several institutions in New Zealand, working with that country’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, has found that it is possible to model the number and type of tsunamis that are likely to strike a given area over a given period. With New Zealand’s geography, the tsunami will likely happen at any given time.

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In the emergency response efforts to natural disaster risks, the New Zealand Government relies on technology to design effective mitigation solutions and emphasises an educational approach. One key step in this effort is involving the community in earthquake and tsunami simulations.

The residents in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty have designed a programme that utilises earthquake and tsunami simulation technology, using virtual reality (VR) simulations to experience earthquakes and tsunamis, offering an innovative approach by the Tauranga City Council to raise awareness about coastal risks in the region. This aims to enhance public understanding of potential dangers, allowing them to feel the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis through realistic technology.

Participants wearing a VR headset to immerse themselves in a computer-generated version of the Mount Maunganui beach coastline. Over a ten-minute simulation, users encounter mild and severe earthquakes, prompting them to decide how to respond to these virtual disasters.

Isaac Orchard, the Community Resilience Advisor for Tauranga City Council, highlighted the immersive and surprising nature of the experience. He noted that many participants expressed amazement at the potential impact of earthquakes and tsunamis in Tauranga, emphasising the effectiveness of the VR simulation in conveying the risks.

This initiative represents the first use of VR technology for disaster preparedness in New Zealand. Drawing inspiration from Japan’s post-2011 earthquake and tsunami efforts, where VR significantly increased emergency preparedness, the Tauranga City Council encourages a reemphasis on taking tangible steps to prepare for real-life events.

Orchard, currently pursuing a master’s degree at Auckland University of Technology, observed that younger individuals showed greater readiness for emergencies and a more positive response to the VR experience. Adults, on the other hand, exhibited hesitation in using the technology. The council deployed multiple headsets to overcome this, enabling family members to experience the simulation together.

Liz Oliver, Senior Emergency Management Advisor for Tauranga City Council, emphasised the importance of understanding risk zones based on a 1-in-2500-year tsunami event. While maps are available to guide residents, the region could face tsunamis more frequently. Oliver acknowledged that the coastal risks are inherent in New Zealand, emphasising the need for community awareness.

The council updated evacuation maps to feature emphasised evacuation zones representing areas susceptible to tsunamis. These maps also identify designated tsunami-safe locations. In a tsunami, residents are advised to walk, run, or cycle to these safe areas or exit the blue zone promptly.

The VR initiative emphasises informing residents about potential risks but also prompts proactive measures for disaster preparedness. By leveraging technology to create an engaging and educational experience, Tauranga City Council seeks to enhance community resilience and ensure that residents are well-prepared for unforeseen natural disasters.

“We ensure we can bridge the gap in understanding, hence every citizen can respond wisely in emergency situations,” Oliver explained.

At the same time, this approach also emphasises the importance of collaboration between the government, geographers, scientists, and the community. By collectively understanding risks and mitigation measures, they collaborate to create a safer and more responsive environment to disasters.

As a leader in combining technology and education in disaster mitigation, New Zealand sets a positive example for other countries in similar disaster-prone regions. By prioritising education through VR technology, they are building a robust preparedness foundation and empowering communities to act proactively in the face of potential natural threats at any given time.


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