Thursday, August 02, 2018

Explaining the Pacific’s Ring of Fire

The video above was posted as part of Vox’s Atlas series a few days ago. It’s informative, though mainly for people who don’t know about this already, and it also talks about some of the unmet challenges. It’s a good start.

Vox described the video this way:
The Ring of Fire is a band of volcanoes and frequent earthquakes that runs from New Zealand, up through Eastern Asia, across the Bering Strait and all the way down to the Southern tip of Chile. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis appear around the boundaries of the several, fast moving, tectonic plates that make up the region. When the plates collide, they create areas of volatility. The Ring of Fire sees more natural disasters than anywhere else on Earth, but what makes it particularly dangerous is that few countries are prepared.
I wouldn’t disagree with anything thing they said, except that New Zealand should get more credit for its preparedness. For example, our building codes are strong, and buildings in Wellington and Auckland needing earthquake strengthening have been identified and prioritised. Mostly they’re either heritage buildings, built before there were earthquake building codes, or ones built according to old standards that have since been toughened.

The point here is that dangers have been identified and work prioritised within realistic parameters: Obviously we’d like the buildings toughened NOW, but it has to be paid for somehow, and the trick is to manage the risk. I think New Zealand has it about right, but if time runs out everyone will think it was far too slow. That’s a different sort of risk.

The other side is preparedness: Making sure people are ready for disaster, and for that the Government has been advertising heavily (some of them shared on this blog) and talking about getting ready. Even so, we all know that people will put it off. So, in the past couple years, the emphasis has shifted to preparing for other natural disasters, like floods, cyclones, and other severe storms, because we experience those much more frequently. Preparations for storms are pretty much the same as preparation for earthquakes and volcanoes, so preparing for one will help prepare for other potential disasters.

New Zealand also has a devloping national alert system, which I wrote about in November last year. They also ran ads promoting the system. However, we got no warning at all of the big storm that hit this past April, so there’s still work to do.

The main missing piece in New Zealand, in my opinion, is community organisation: Helping communities to organise themselves to be able to get through a natural disaster until normal services resume, or help arrives. I’ve seen some tentative steps in that direction, but we could be doing so much more more. After all, in the aftermath of that storm last April, parts of Auckland had no power for several days. That’s enough to make civilisation to start breaking down.

Vox’s video makes clear that the natural disasters along the Pacific Ring of Fire are largely unpredictable. And, it makes clear that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to prepare for disaster. New Zealand is better prepared than, say, California, but we have a long way to go, too.

We must do better.

Related: All my posts labelled "Get Thru" are relevant to this topic.


rogerogreen said...

BTW, I'll be seeing a musical based on Johnny Cash this weekend. https://capitalrep.org/event/ring-of-fire-the-music-of-johnny-cash/

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I always thing of that certain song every time I have reason to talk about the Ring of Fire, which is why I now always try to put the word Pacific in front of it. Not that it stops the song getting into my head, of course.