Research shows many Kiwis ignore earthquake warning alerts instead of protecting themselves

The research has found most people will ignore the warning instead of protecting themselves.
The research has found most people will ignore the warning instead of protecting themselves. Photo credit: Getty Images

New research reveals many Kiwis aren't taking the correct procedures after being alerted to an earthquake warning through their mobile phones.

A survey was conducted by Massey’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research in 2021 following two earthquakes that triggered Android Earthquake Alerts (AEA) on Android phones.

The survey assessed awareness of the system, how they responded to it and whether they found it useful.

Research author Dr Lauren Vinnell said unlike other countries, New Zealand does not have its own official public Early Earthquake Warning (EEW) system.

The AEA system works by using cellphone accelerometers to detect potential earthquake shaking and then alerts users within an area expected to feel shaking.

"There was little to no communication to the public about this system, or education about how it works," Vinnell said.

"As a result, our survey found that while most respondents found the system useful, they didn’t know much if anything about either Earthquake Early Warning systems or Android Earthquake Alerts.”

Vinnell said most people who received the alert did not take the appropriate action to drop, cover and hold to protect themselves from the shaking.

Instead they waited, looked for information, mentally prepared, told others or did nothing, she said.

“Most of the people who did nothing didn’t have enough time, didn’t understand the message, didn’t know what to do, or expected the shaking to be light,” she added

Vinnell also found that only a quarter to a third of the 3000 respondents knew that the alert came from Google.

Others thought it came from the National Emergency Management Agency, GNS Science or GeoNet.

Dr Vinnell said the study shows that the New Zealand public see some value in EEW, but don't know much about it, including who is responsible for the current system or how to respond appropriately to an alert.

“Given the low levels of knowledge, it’s highly likely that there is a low awareness of Early Earthquake Warning limitations, including false and missed alert rates, and the fact that warning times decrease the closer the user is to the earthquake epicentre, with those closest unlikely to receive much if any warning from the system.”