By Libby Kirkby-McLeod of RNZ
Bay of Plenty residents have been experiencing virtual earthquakes and tsunamis this summer as a way for the Tauranga City Council to engage residents about the coastal risks the area faces.
Using a virtual reality headset, a user sees a computer-generated version of the main Mount Maunganui beach coastline. They then experience a 10-minute simulation of a small earthquake, followed by a more serious earthquake, and make decisions about what actions they need to take in response.
Tauranga City Council community resilience adviser Isaac Orchard said people find the experience immersive and surprising.
“The overwhelming response to using the simulation is, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t realise an earthquake and tsunami could have that much of an effect here in Tauranga’.”
Council staff were following up the experience by encouraging residents to take actions to prepare for the real event.
It was the first use of the technology in this manner in New Zealand.
“In Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there, they started using virtual reality far more often because they saw a greater uptake in emergency preparedness from people who used it,” Orchard said.
Orchard was reviewing the usefulness of the VR experience for disaster preparedness for a master’s degree through Auckland University of Technology. He said young people seemed much more prepared for emergencies, and were more willing to undergo the VR experience.
“Adults have been hesitant to put it on, whereas children have been very willing to give it a go.”
The team got around this by using multiple headsets so family members could experience it together.
Council senior emergency management adviser Liz Oliver and said there were maps to advise residents of where the risk zones are, based on a one-in-2500-year tsunami event. However, the area could have tsunamis more frequently than that.
She said the community seemed to understand the risks.
“Anywhere in New Zealand, when you are on a coastline, there is that risk there.”
Evacuation maps were updated in October to show a single, blue evacuation zone for the areas a tsunami could reach.
Tsunami-safe locations were also included on the maps, and in the event of a tsunami, people should walk, run or cycle to those safe locations or make their way out of the blue zone.