PODCAST: An Earthquake and its Aftermath in New Zealand

Hear Simon Markham describe how his New Zealand community continues to rebuild seven years after a devastating earthquake.

The Canterbury Earthquake sequence from 2010 to 2012 became known as the worst natural disaster in the history of New Zealand. Though it struck first and hardest in September 2010, it was an aftershock six months later near Christ Church that proved to be most devastating. It claimed lives and property and the affected communities are still recovering seven years later. Waimakariri District Council Local Government Manager and ICMA member Simon Markham quickly found himself in an unexpected role: leading through the disaster and recovery. Though he was not an emergency management professional, he tapped his strong expertise in community engagement and communication to build community trust and resilience. 

The Waimakariri District, which has a population of about 60,000, is part of greater Christ Church, a metropolitan area of 450,000. The earthquake caused widespread damage across Christchurch, killing 185 people and causing billions of dollars worth of property damage. Markham describes the problem of liquefaction, which occurred, producing around 400,000 tons of silt. In this episode of Local Gov Life, you’ll hear Markham’s firsthand account of the disaster and some of the universal lessons that can help others navigate the long recovery and restoration process. 




  • Seek to influence and persuade, rather than command and control.
  • Express visible leadership and open and honest communication.
  • Work with community strengths. 
  • Community engagement is vital. You have to accommodate for the differences in the way people react and require information.
  • You need to constantly repeat your key messages. You cannot overcommunicate. 
  • Though leading through a crisis is a critical role, you need to manage your other roles as a parent, partner, and community member. 

Quotable Mentions

"Our success will not be measured by the pipe and road we lay but by how the people come through this." 

"Remain centered on the affected community. (As managers) It's very easy to get distracted by the details."

"Recovery is like a patchwork quilt. Every patch needs to fit together with the next, and it's not complete until the whole community is restored."

"Restoration, reconstruction, and improvement interrelate and overlap; are untidy; and require constant reflection as to where we are, where are we headed, and what is needed in the community."

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Local Gov Life highlights successful programs and projects that enhance the quality of life in our communities. Each episode features a changing cast of local government experts from public and private sector backgrounds, who together encompass years of experience in getting things done and achieving results. Catch up on all individual episodes at icma.org/podcast or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music.

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