Monday, August 8, 2011

Winter in Samoa

Is nothing like winter in Wellington! The team are back in Samoa for the village consultation stage of this year-long project. To recap: Funded by NZ Aid Programme, GNS Science and the Samoa Disaster Management Office (DMO) have partnered to produce tsunami evacuation zone maps for all of Samoa, and pilot the creation of community maps in four villages. The project (as far as GNS is involved) will conclude with an evacuation drill later this year. The roll-out of community maps for the rest of Samoa will be undertaken using in-country expertise in mapping and community consultation at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa, and other, associated ministries. It feels a little odd to be here without Nora, but she is now at home with baby Giles and we are continuing her great work in establishing the project.

Stages of the project completed so far include the Inception Visit (the subject of previous blogs), near and distant tsunami source modelling for Samoa, data acquisition to assist modelling, and inundation and evacuation zone mapping. Much of the technical work was undertaken at GNS Science in New Zealand. We now have draft evacuation zone maps for Samoa similar to those used by Wellington and Northland communities in NZ. These need local input to be relevant and meaningful.

Community consultation will include discussion with village populations and then more detailed consultation in three groups: men, women and youth. The purpose of the consultation is to allow locals to draw their own evacuation routes on maps and identify the best location for safe evacuation destination and signage. We also discuss how the tsunami maps align with previous hazard maps developed for villages, how they integrate with existing disaster management arrangements including official warnings, and very importantly the indicators and actions applicable to natural warnings (strong or prolonged shaking, unusual ocean behaviour or sounds etc).

So we have a busy month ahead, we spend three days in each village with small breaks in between to write up notes and re-charge our batteries. All the consultations will be in Samoan, and we travel as part of a team of trained facilitators from Samoan government agencies lead by Vaitoa Toelupe of the DMO. The GNS members are there to provide technical support to facilitators as villagers discuss and customise the maps and undertake village walk-throughs of evacuation routes and safe locations. Most editing will be in the form of drawing on routes, safe locations and important landmarks such as churches and schools.

As part of the team Michele, Graham and I will travel to Mutiatele and Malaela on the southern part of the east coast of Upolu, then to the village of Poutasi in the middle of Upolu’s south coast. Graham and Michele will then head back to New Zealand and I will be joined by Brenda Rosser from the GNS business development team but also a GIS mapping aficionado, with a keen interest in working with our partners in the Pacific. Brenda and I will join teams heading to Faleu on Manono Island (the small, inhabited island between Upolu and Savai’i. The final village consultation is in Satupaitea district on Savai’i and strictly speaking covers four villages. All of the pilot areas were severely impacted by the 2009 tsunami, and have a long history of community hazard infrastructure planning with the DMO.

So it’s a warm, busy and exciting month ahead for me. I know I’ll get a bit homesick for my family and cold, windy Wellington but the welcome, the weather and excitement of being involved in such a valuable and locally supported project will really help (not to mention the odd cold Vailima at the end of the day).

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