UW-Green Bay faculty member Lucy Arendt (Business Administration) was dispatched as part of a six-member interdisciplinary team to quickly gather data on government response when a magnitude-7.1 earthquake rocked the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, on Sept. 4.
The team was sent by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) as part of its Learning from Earthquakes initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation. Arendt and others met with small business owners and homeowners to learn how they were dealing with the quake’s aftermath. They also met with structural engineers, seismologists, geotechnical scientists, and other local experts.
Arendt noted that the Christchurch earthquake (South Island of New Zealand) is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Among them:
• Its Richter scale number (7.1) exceeded that of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. Despite the greater magnitude, the earthquake did not result in any fatalities, compared to the estimated 100,000 or more who died in Haiti.
• Geotechnical experts are still debating the particulars of the earthquake and trying to ascertain the extent to which ground motion led to building damage as opposed to liquefaction. Officials were surprised by the damage caused by liquefaction, mostly in newer residential developments.
• The fact that most people were home in bed, mostly in wood frame, slab-on-grade construction with light metal roofs, contributed to the lack of fatalities. The Haiti earthquake struck at about 5 p.m., the Christchurch earthquake struck about 4:30 a.m. While many homes were damaged, the damage was limited and non-life threatening. Heavily damaged buildings tended to be unreinforced masonry (brick) buildings. As is the case in many older cities, many of Christchurch’s heritage sites had been constructed of stone or unreinforced masonry. Those with retrofitting performed better than those without.
“For small businesses, the key lesson from this earthquake was to be aware of interdependencies,” said Arendt, who earned two degrees at UW-Green Bay — a bachelor’s in Business Administration in 1987 and a master’s in Administrative Science in 1990.
“While many businesses did not suffer structural damage, they were forced to close or had little business because of damage to adjoining or nearby businesses, or because of damage to suppliers or distributors,” she said. “Local government encouraged people to stay home, and the schools were closed for a week to allow for damage assessment. So, people stayed home. The impact on business was that, for many businesses at least, while they did not suffer any business interruption, they had no business. This phenomenon is highly likely to alter the recovery trajectory for the city of Christchurch (population approximately 375,000) and its surrounding communities.”
Arendt has extensive research experience in disaster response, particularly hospital decision-making in times of crisis. With colleagues, she has interviewed hospital administrators in California, Oregon, Washington, Louisiana and Mississippi about their preparedness and response to earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding. She also conducted reconnaissance research in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Gustav (2008). She has co-authored a book on community recovery in the aftermath of disaster.
Arendt, an associate professor, received the Founder’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2008.