Christchurch Earthquake Case Study 2010 Olympics

A city to rebuild

In 2010 and 2011 Christchurch was shaken by a series of devastating earthquakes. In September 2010, the city was awoken by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. This was followed on 22 February 2011 by a massive 6.3 magnitude aftershock which struck near the heart of the city. Already weakened buildings and infrastructure were severely damaged, completely destroyed or rendered useless due to the intense ground shaking and liquefaction of soils.

An insight into the damage

Delivering a vision for the future

As the city rebuilt, Aurecon was closely involved in the deconstruction and geotechnical work around the region. The collective stories relating to rebuilding the city were filled with sadness and loss but there were incredible tales of resilience, renewed strength and hope for a brighter future.

“The rebuild of Christchurch was about recreating and planning for a new, resilient community that will be as vibrant as it always was. Deans Head is just one of Aurecon’s many and varied projects that contributed to the rebuild of Christchurch,” says Dr Jan Kupec, Aurecon Technical Director.

Steadying the slope for life to carry on

In the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, the steeply sloping residential area of Deans Head in Sumner posed a serious threat to the access of the Sumner township. It had the potential to disrupt the lives of more than 7 000 residents. Earthquake shaking had caused a repeated retreat of the cliff edge, with over 25 m of cliff edge toppling off the 80 m high and 350 m long cliff face. The adjacent residential area of Deans Head was left in a highly unstable state and identified to be at risk of further massive landslides.

In the event of additional cliff collapses, the community faced the possibility of being isolated from Christchurch, particularly as the main road into Sumner was situated directly below the cliff.

The government needed a feasible long-term solution which a traditional slope remediation solution could not provide. The answer was removing an estimated 53 000 m3 of landslide debris and effectively removing the hazard. Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) commissioned Aurecon as the key advisor for all Deans Head remediation engineering services including civil, geotechnical, structural and surveying.

Digital solutions improve safety and model topography

From the outset, Aurecon’s innovative, digital solutions changed the way this project was tackled.

Contractors needed to work in high risk areas that had previously been inundated by cliff collapse material. Therefore, it was essential to assess and monitor the impact of boulder roll in the work area. Using remote controlled machinery, contractors first excavated a catch ditch at the base of a cliff and constructed a bund. As a result, there was a need to accurately reflect this change in topography.

Bespoke digital innovation deployed at Deans Head included:

  • Using photogrammetry to capture the constantly changing environment
  • Developing detailed virtual reality models
  • Employing augmented reality to create solutions
  • Capturing live drone footage for use in public consultation and Q&A sessions

Modelling and managing the site

  1. Rockfall modelling was initially done using 2010/ 11 LiDAR data, which was accurate to 0.5/1m
  2. The Fly-Model-Analyse workflow was introduced by Aurecon
  3. Fly: Remote controlled drones scanned every part of the slope and captured 1000s of high resolution photographs
  4. Model: A 3D photogrammetry terrain model was created using the images from drones
  5. Analyse: Now the latest accurate topography model could be used to undertake 2D rock fall analysis so the excavation crew could operate efficiently and safely

Digital tools measure removal progress and costs

You could fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools with the spoil removed from the Deans Head project. Aurecon was faced with the challenge of working out how to ‘verify’ contractor payment claims based on calculating bulk earthwork volumes.

A unique workflow was developed and deployed: flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the team collected 1000s of photographs and through photogrammetry, created 3D models. This innovation was the first of its kind to compare complex 3D terrain models for volume purposes.

  • 1000s photographs taken to form a 3D site model
  • 3D photogrammetry model created from drone flights
  • 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of earth removed
  • Able to verify contractor payment claims from highly accurate 3D data

Rethinking safety and site inductions

Aurecon seized the opportunity to use virtual reality technology and augmented reality headsets to create an immersive and educational site induction experience.

The team took 360° photo sphere images of the site around and overlaid the geohazards and site information. As the geotechnical engineers on the project Aurecon, was responsible for inducting contractors and drawing their attention to any hazards. Keeping everyone on site safe was a top priority.

On traditional geotechnical projects site inductions would have involved 2D maps and paper forms. Using virtual reality goggles for site inductions meant that contractors didn’t step foot onto the project site until they were fully inducted. It also made for an engaging way to be inducted to site and a very unique way to encourage participants to remember, and recall, the information.

“This changed the way we engaged with those accessing site and were able to clearly point out the hazards and illustrate the no-go areas, all before we even go to site,” says Tom Revell, Aurecon Engineering Geologist.

1. Induction challenges

  • How much hazard information to include in the VR induction?
  • Too much information led to the image being crowded and details lost
  • Too little information, details inaccurately communicated

2. Induction solution

  • Editable images using virtual reality technology made it easier to add, update and remove information
  • With two virtual reality goggles it meant that more contractors could be inducted at once

3. Project delivery benefits

  • Using virtual reality meant the time taken for site inductions was reduced by 50 percent
  • This had a flow on effect of reduced labour time for our client
  • Safety information effortlessly communicated to site contractors
  • This meant site staff were inducted before they set foot on the project site

Climb every mountain quickly!

(Live stream drone footage)

How we met a digital time challenge

At one stage of the project, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) challenged Aurecon to bring what our engineers were seeing via their drone to a desk in the LINZ office, and to do it in real time. The client challenge was to make this happen within 24 hours. We accepted it with relish.

After testing hosting software, and only 22 hours after receiving the request, Aurecon was hosting its first ever YouTube live feed of a site from a drone.

  • Within 24 hours, remote viewers across the globe had access to footage of the geotechnically high-risk site in real-time
  • The experience was interactive and participants could even give prompts as to where the UAVs flew around the site
  • During the live flight a Q&A session was running to enable discussion of what the viewers were seeing
  • Viewers from New Zealand, Australia, America, Ireland, South Africa and the United Kingdom tuned in to see the footage
  • Value was created by making the digital insights more accessible to a wider audience in real time

Immersing our stakeholders

The 3D models that were created from drone footage and 2D drawings were dropped into virtual and augmented reality using HoloLens. The process of drone to photogrammetry to interrogation of models using HoloLens was an industry first.

Using an online viewer and simple VR headsets, the client could see the models in a relatively immersive environment. The introduction of Microsoft’s HoloLens enabled Aurecon to take this experience to the next level by viewing the models on multiple headsets in augmented reality.

The models could then be interrogated by several engineers at once allowing them to pick up features that hadn’t been noticed previously. Health and safety hazards could be discussed prior to visiting the site and it was also used to predict workflow clashes or logistical issues prior to works starting.

Learn more about the remediation of Dean's Head.


In Press

Nilakant, V., Walker B., Kuntz, J., de Vries, H., Malinen, S., Näswall K., & van Heugten, S. (in press). Dynamics of Organizational Response to a Disaster: A Study of Organizations Impacted by Earthquakes. In C. Michael Hall, Sanna Malinen, Russell Wordsworth and Rob Vosslamber (Eds), Business and Disaster Management: Business, organisational and consumer resilience and the Christchurch Earthquakes. Routledge.


Kuntz, J.C. (2015). The protracted effect: Exploring the relationship between organisational disaster responsiveness and employee burnout. Natural Hazards Review.

Conference Papers:
Malinen, S., Nӓswall, K., and Kuntz, J.C. September (2015). Paper: Organisations’ role in post-disaster recovery – FIOH2015 - Finland.

Malinen, S., Nӓswall, K., and Kuntz, J.C. 19-21 August (2015). Paper: Enhancing organizational resilience through focusing on employee wellbeing – International Interdisciplinary Conference on Research on Work, WORK2015 - New Meanings of Work, Turku, Finland.

Kuntz, J.C., Näswall, K., Malinen, S., August 7-11 (2015). Employee Resilience: Development of a Measure. King, D. and Van Dyne, L. Symposium: “Worker Collective Resilience: Advancing Theories, Methods, and Applications of Resilience Research", Academy of Management Meeting, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Kuntz, J.C., May 20-23 (2015). Employee Resilience Defined. Näswall, K., Kuntz, J. & Malinen, S. (2015) Symposium: Resilience in the workplace: Leading through change and challenges – EAWOP, Oslo, Norway.

Näswall, K., Malinen, S., Kuntz, J., May (2015). Paper: “Change from the inside: Research-informed but organization-driven intervention to promote worker wellbeing” – Work, Stress and Health Conference, Atlanta, USA.

Technical Report:
Näswall, K., Kuntz, J., Hodliffe, M., and Malinen, S. (2015). Employee Resilience Scale (EmpRes): Technical Report. Resilient Organisations Research Report (2015/09).


Conference Papers:
Kuntz, J.C., July 8-13 (2014). Facilitating disaster recovery and wellbeing in the Education Sector: Evidence from two studies. Malinen, S., Kuntz, J., Näswall, K., Kemp, S., Rucklidge, J., Symposium: Wellbeing and recovery in a post-disaster context – International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP), Paris, France.

Kuntz, J.C., Näswall, K., Malinen, S. and Hodliffe, M. June 29-July 2 (2014). Paper: Resilience revisited: An employee-centred approach – 14th Biennial International Society for the Study of Work and Organisational Values (ISSWOV) Conference, Riga, Latvia.

Malinen, S., Kuntz, J., Näswall, K. June (2014). Paper: Employee wellbeing and attitudes in a post-disaster environment: A case study – Institute of Work Psychology International Conference (IWP), Sheffield, United Kingdom.

Näswall, K., Kuntz, J., Malinen, S., April 14-16 (2014). Paper: Employee Resilience and Work-Related Factors: Scale Development and Some Interesting Associations – European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology, London, UK.

Journal Article:
Rucklidge, J.J., Blampied, N.M., Gorman, B., Gordon, H.A. and Sole, E. (2014). Psychological functioning 1 year after a brief intervention using micronutrients to treat stress and anxiety related to the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes: A naturalistic follow-up. Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental, 29(3): 230-243.

Kuntz, J.C., Näswall, K., and Bockett, A. (2013). Keep Calm and Carry On? An Investigation of Teacher Burnout in a Post-disaster Context. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(2), 57-68.

McKay, K., Kuntz, J.R.C., & Näswall, K. (2013). The effect of affective commitment, communication and participation on resistance to change: The role of change readiness. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 4(2), 29-40.


Dorahy, M.J., & Kannis-Dymand, L. (2012). Psychological distress following the 2010 Christchurch Earthquake: A community assessment of two differentially affected suburbs. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 17, 1-15.

Helton, W.S., & Head, J. (2012). Earthquakes on the mind: Implications of disasters for human performance. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. (recent online version)

Kuijer, R.G., & Boyce, J.A. (2012). Emotional eating and its effect on eating behaviour after a natural disaster. Appetite, 58, 936-939.

Rucklidge, J.J., Andridge, R., Gorman, B., Blampied, N.B., Gordon, H., & Boggis, A. (2012). Shaken but unstirred? Effects of micronutrients on stress and trauma after an earthquake: RCT evidence comparing formulas and doses. Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental, DOI: 10.1002/hup.2246


Britt, E., Dorahy, M., Carter, J., Hoggath, P., Coates, A., Meyer, M., & Naswall, K. (2011). Promoting recovery and building resilience for individuals and communities. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 40(4), 76-82. (pdf)

Helton, W.S., Head, J., & Kemp, S. (2011). Natural disaster-induced cognitive disruption: Impacts on action slips. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 1732-1737.

Kemp, S., Helton, W.S., Richardson, J.J., Blampied, N.M., & Grimshare, M. (2011). Sleeplessness, stress, cognitive disruption and academic performance following the September 4, 2010, Christchurch Earthquake. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 2, 11-18.

Rucklidge, J.J., & Blampied, N.M. (2011). Post-earthquake psychological functioning in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Positive effects of micronutrients on resilience. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 40(4), 51-57. (pdf, 118KB)

Rucklidge, J.J., & Johnstone, J., Harrison, R., & Boggis, A. (2011). Micronutrients reduce stress and anxiety in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder following a 7.1 earthquake. Psychiatry Research, 189, 281-287.


Helton, W.S., Kemp, S., & Walton, D. Individual differences in movements in response to natural disasters: Tsunami and earthquake case studies. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 57th Annual Meeting. (2013)

Kuntz, J.C., Näswall, K., & Malinen, S. Discussion Paper: Building resilience to promote engagement. New Zealand Industrial Organisational Psychology Conference, Auckland, New Zealand. December 2 (2013).
Malinen, S., Kuntz, J.C., & Nӓswall, K. Discussion Paper: Employee attitudes and wellbeing in a post-disaster environment: A case study from the financial sector. New Zealand Industrial Organisational Psychology Conference, Auckland, New Zealand. December 2 (2013)
Näswall, K., Kuntz, J.C., & Malinen, S. Discussion Paper: Employee resilience and work-related outcomes: A study of Canterbury employees. – New Zealand Psychological Society Annual Conference, Auckland, New Zealand. September 6-9 (2013)

Kuntz, J.C. Näswall, K., & Rae, S. Oral Presentation: UC Students Post-Earthquake: Burnout, Academic Performance and Employability. New Zealand Tertiary Community Engagement Summit, Christchurch, New Zealand. August 29-30 (2013)


 Sleeplessness, stress, cognitive performance following earthquake

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