The heroes New Zealand needs: Infrastructure’s role after disasters

Chloe Civil Trades, News

Who didn’t want to be some kind of super hero when they grew up? Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow painted the walls of our bedrooms. We dreamed of leaping from buildings and zooming in to save the day.

Big disasters see New Zealand infrastructure teams joining forces to help our citizens get back to normal life quickly after unforeseen events.

When big disasters strike in New Zealand, our infrastructure industries take on a close resemblance to our favourite pack of super heroes: The Avengers. While they have their own individual tasks and battles (and story lines to maintain) throughout the year, big disruptions see them all joining forces to help our citizens get back to normal life quickly.

These infrastructure crews are the people who head out into the heart of the problem so we can seek out safety. From responding first to keep us connected by restoring power, helping clear roadways and rubble to mapping out important plans for restructures and rebuilds – our infrastructure teams are our modern-day heroes.

Kaikoura and beyond: Disaster first response

The recent Kaikoura Earthquake is a prime example. When the 7.8 magnitude quake struck, infrastructure workers were among the first on the scene – clearing roads and disposing of rubble. The natural disaster, which was responsible for the death of two people and the injury of 57, caused an estimated $3 billion in damages, according to Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf.

The Kaikoura earthquake was not the first time infrastructure industries needed to band together to protect the city from danger. New Zealand has seen its fair share of disasters and our teams have been quick to respond every time.

Think back just five years ago when Christchurch was struck with a 6.3 magnitude earthquake – resulting in the death of 185 people and serious injury to 164 others. The aftershocks of both Kaikoura and Christchurch resulted in even more issues such as landsliding and liquefaction leading to more widespread damage.

In the days that followed both disasters, infrastructure workers were onsite. In Kaikoura, Downer had a crew of 80 putting in 12-hour workdays – hurrying to create more serviceable roads for residents, while Mainpower linesmen climbed electricity poles during continued aftershocks to restore power to the area.

Rebuilding critical infrastructure makes up one of the most intricate and complicated areas of recovery planning.

Long-term post disaster infrastructure planning

While this immediate work is critical, the road to recovery is much longer. Just like a band of super heroes, each area of infrastructure remains busy and vigilant of their particular sector for years to come.

Once the initial crisis is averted, it’s time for long-term planning. Rebuilding critical infrastructure makes up one of the most intricate and complicated areas of recovery planning, according to the Planning for Preparedness, Response, and Recovery report.

The first order of business is usually defining critical infrastructure: What roads, systems and structures are most essential for day-to-day functions to continue? What is the extent of the damage? And what industries are needed to get the job done?

Part of this includes making plans for backup systems. How can a community transport goods while critical roads are under construction? What provisions need to be made while power lines are down or water reticulation systems are damaged? While some of these backup methods will be short term, others – like temporary housing – will need to be made with horizontal-built infrastructure timelines in mind.

The reconstruction period is also more than just a rebuild of old structures. According to the report, recovery and reconstruction planning must aim to also build infrastructure that is better protected against future disasters. What are our alternatives/responses for when roads are wiped out by slips, water systems are contaminated and/or the power is out? How can we safeguard against this?

The work of infrastructure professionals – during, immediately after and still underway now make up a critical aspect of a city’s recovery.