Understanding the impact of a major earthquake on Wellington lifelines

  • R.L. Mowll Wellington Lifelines Group, Wellington, New Zealand
  • D.R. Brunsdon NZ Lifelines Committee, NZ
  • F. Wilde Wellington Lifelines Group, Wellington, New Zealand
  • P.D. Leslie Wellington Lifelines Group, Wellington, New Zealand


Understanding seismic hazard and the potential impacts of an earthquake on a population allows better planning of response and recovery. It also allows a better understanding of how to mitigate against the effects of earthquakes.

The Wellington Lifelines Group (WeLG) and the various Wellington lifeline utility organisations over the past five years have synthesised information on the consequences of a major earthquake, drawing upon hazard information (including from the GNS Science-led ‘It’s Our Fault’ studies), learning from civil defence emergency management exercises and from overseas earthquakes, and specialist studies commissioned by individual utilities. During 2012, WeLG facilitated specific discussions in order to summarise the time taken to restore water, transport, power (electricity) and telecommunications services following a rupture of the Wellington Fault, and therefore the effects on the population.

The outcome of this work was an indication of substantial post-earthquake restoration times, agreed across and within key utility sectors. The time-scales for restoration of lifelines in a major earthquake are in the tens of days for power and water, and some key roads would not be recovered for up to 120 days. Telecommunications systems, particularly cell phone sites, would be recovered earlier, but are critically dependent upon access and fuel supplies for the refuelling of emergency generators.

Given the significance of these likely restoration times for the community, it was decided to publically release the information, with buy-in from all of the lifeline utility organisations involved. The resulting report was released, with appropriate messaging, via the Wellington CDEM Group to the media in mid-November 2012.

This paper provides a summary of the likely restoration times, background to their derivation, and the initial reactions to the release of the information.


Business and Economic Research Ltd, (2010), Framework for economic impact assessment of earthquake disruption to Wellington Metropolitan lifelines. Report to the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The Press, (2012), Quake would cut Wellington off for months. Article available at http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/7940384/Quake-would-cut-Wellington-off-for-months

Van Dissen, R., et al, (2010), It’s Our Fault: better defining earthquake risk in Wellington. in proceedings, 11th IAEG Congress, Auckland, New Zealand, 5-10 September, 2010: 737-746.

Wellington Lifelines Group (WeLG), (2012), Lifeline Utilities Restoration Times for Metropolitan Wellington Following a Wellington Fault Earthquake. A Report to the Wellington CDEM Group Joint Committee from the Wellington Lifelines Group. http://www.gw.govt.nz/hazard-management-and-reporting/

SOPAC. (undated, but approx. 2005), A Framework for Action 2005 – 2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. SOPAC Miscellaneous Report 613. Suva, Fiji: SOPAC.

How to Cite
Mowll, R., Brunsdon, D., Wilde, F., & Leslie, P. (2013). Understanding the impact of a major earthquake on Wellington lifelines . Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 46(2), 109-115. https://doi.org/10.5459/bnzsee.46.2.109-115