Tsunami Frequently Asked Questions

What is a tsunami?  

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Tsunami are large and powerful ocean waves that can grow in size as they reach the shore. Some tsunami have been known to travel for thousands of kilometres across the ocean and travel at speeds of up to 800km per hour. 

What causes a tsunami?  

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The most common cause is a sea floor earthquake. Other triggers are under sea landslides, under sea volcanic eruptions, and meteorite impact. Sudden changes to the sea floor cause the ocean to flow away from the disturbance, creating waves. To find out more about tsunami see GNS Science

How do I know if I am in a tsunami zone?

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There is an online map where you can search your address. You can also view pdf maps and print and keep them as part of your emergency plan. We recommend knowing where your zones are for home, work, schools, sports grounds or other places you regularly visit. 

What are tsunami blue lines?

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Many areas across the Wellington region have a blue line painted across roads and footpaths which show the safe places to evacuate to if there is a long or strong earthquake. The blue lines show the maximum possible run-up heights (worst case scenario) and are based on scientific modelling by GNS Science and Greater Wellington Regional Council. The Tsunami Blue Lines are not in all parts of the region. 

When should I evacuate? 

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  1. If you feel an earthquake that is either Long (longer than a minute) OR Strong (strong enough that it’s hard to stand up), evacuate immediately after the shaking stops. Do not wait for an official warning. The earthquake is your warning that there could be a tsunami. Get to the nearest high ground, or as far inland as possible. 
  2. If a national warning has been issued and you are told to evacuate by authorities. 

What should I do if I'm in a high-rise building? 

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After a long or strong earthquake a tsunami may reach Wellington in as little as 10 minutes. We recommend evacuating out of all tsunami zones (red, orange and yellow) rather than staying in your building.

For further information see WREMO’s statement about Vertical Evacuation.

For information on what to do if you live in a high-rise building, click here.

How will I be warned of a tsunami threat?

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A long or strong earthquake is the natural warning for a tsunami - If you feel an earthquake that is long OR strong, evacuate as soon as the shaking stops. Do not wait for an official warning.

If an earthquake occurs in the Pacific Islands or further away, we may not feel it. If there is a tsunami threat to New Zealand, a national warning will be issued and WREMO can provide alerts and information on areas, if any, that need to be evacuated. This can be done through radio, TV broadcasts, social media (WREMO Facebook and Twitter), WREMO and local council websites, and Emergency Mobile Alerts.

Why is an earthquake my only warning for a local tsunami?

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If you FEEL an earthquake that is either longer than a minute OR strong enough that it’s hard to stand up, this could be big enough to cause a tsunami that reaches Wellington region shores within 10 minutes.

In a big earthquake like this it is likely that communications and infrastructure will be damaged and will not work. People need to know that a long or strong earthquake is your natural warning that there could be a tsunami generated and evacuate immediately without being told.

How should I evacuate? 

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Walk, run, or cycle if you can.

Vehicles should only be used by emergency services and those with mobility impairments. For those who can't walk or cycle, such as those with mobility impairments, driving is their only option, and you could be preventing them from evacuating safely.

If you need help evacuating or know someone that does, have a conversation with your neighbours about how everyone can get out safely. 

What is a local-source tsunami?

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A local-source tsunami is one that has been generated by an earthquake in or near New Zealand. In this case, we feel the earthquake. If this earthquake is either long or strong, it is our natural warning that a tsunami could have been generated and you must evacuate immediately after the shaking stops if you are in a tsunami zone. This type of tsunami could arrive in as little as 10 minutes. 

What is a distance-source tsunami?  

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A distant-source tsunami is one that has been generated from an earthquake that has occurred away from New Zealand, such as in the Pacific Islands, or off the coast of South America. If the earthquake occurs near the Pacific Islands, the travel time to New Zealand is 1 to 3 hours. If the earthquake occurs off the coast of South America, the travel time to New Zealand is up to 12 hours. 

Where do I evacuate to? 

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Evacuate to the nearest high ground or as far inland as possible outside the tsunami zones, past the blue lines if your district has them. Identify your quickest route to get out of the zone by looking at the tsunami zone maps, and remember to practise your evacuation so you know where to go. 

Why does the Wellington region not have tsunami sirens? 

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See information on why we don't have tsunami sirens, here.

I have heard sirens in Wellington before, what are these for? 

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The sirens you hear could be the Volunteer Fire Stations alerting volunteers that there is a fire to respond to. Lower Hutt has flood sirens which were installed in the 1970’s for flood warnings, not tsunamis. The sirens are in flood areas, not in tsunami risk areas – for example there are sirens in Manor Park and Wainuiomata, which are not in any tsunami evacuation zone. These won't be used for tsunami. 

Where do I go for information during an emergency?  

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Listen to the news and radio and follow WREMO on Facebook and Twitter. Updates will also go on this website and local council websites. 
WREMO Facebook: @WREMOnz 
WREMO Twitter: @WREMOinfo 

What is an Emergency Mobile Alert?  

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Emergency Mobile Alerts are messages sent by authorised emergency agencies, to mobile phones. The alerts are designed to keep people safe and are broadcast to all capable phones from targeted cell towers. The alerts can be targeted to areas affected by serious hazards and will only be sent when there is a serious threat to life, health, or property, and, in some cases, for test purposes. To find out more click here.

Water Tank Storage Frequently Asked Questions

How do I keep my collected water safe?

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The Ministry of Health's HealthEd website has information on how to keep the tank water safe to drink.

Water collection tanks and safe household water | HealthEd 

What is the size of the tank?

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The tank holds 200 litres of water. It is 1200 mm high, 650 mm wide, weighs 7.5 kg when empty and can fit into the backseat of most cars. 

What can the water in the 200 Litre water tank be used for?

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The water stored in the tank is suitable for garden watering and as an emergency water supply. The water must be boiled for one minute before drinking.

Do I have to boil the water?

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Yes. Health professionals recommend boiling water for one minute before drinking.

For other methods on using or treating water (including contaminated water) in an emergency, see Taumata Arowai’s webpage on How to make water safe to drink under a boil water notice.

The Ministry of Health's HealthEd website has information on how to keep water in your water collection tank safe to drink: Water collection tanks and safe household water | HealthEd


Do I have to clean the tank?

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It is recommended that you empty, clean, and refill your tank at least once a year. 

What colour choices are there?

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Tanks are available in heritage green and birch grey. 

Do I have to fit the tank to a downpipe?

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No. The tank can be used to store 200L of tap water, which should be refreshed every 12 months. It can then be connected to the downpipe in an emergency. This is a good option if you are renting.

If you choose to fill your tank with tap water, cover all the air holes with duct tape the seal the lid with gladwrap to ensure debris does not get inside. 

Do I need to secure the tank?

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There is a risk that tanks could slide in an earthquake so it is a good idea to secure them. If you secure them at the base you should also secure them higher up so they don't rotate and tip over.

Can I link more than one tank together?

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Yes. A series of water tanks can be connected. You will need to buy additional material (connecting pipes/hose) from your local hardware store. 

You can connect a food grade garden hose between the two tanks using the nylex style fittings.

What is the tank made of?

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UV-resistant, food-grade plastic. It is certified as meeting New Zealand standards for water storage. 

Are they easy to install?

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Yes, the diverter kit can be installed by most home handy people. The tank comes with installation instructions and there is a video available on the Tank Guy website. If you have any concerns, the Tank Guy recommends you seek advice from your local plumber. 

How do I clean my water tank?

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Simply empty the tank, wipe and scrub any biofilm from the inside. Rinse it out and reconnect it to your downpipe or re-fill it with water.

Are these tanks subsidised by ratepayers?

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No. WREMO negotiated a bulk order to provide the tank and fittings at this exceptionally low price (retail price of the same tank and fittings is $265). Council staff and facilities have helped to store and distribute the tanks, keeping the price low. 

What do I do if I encounter a problem with the tank I purchased?

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Any problems should be referred to The Tank Guy, phone 0508 326 8888, through their website, or send them an email

Community Fundraisers

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You can help your school or community group raise funds by selling water tanks! Email  The Tank Guy  for more information. 

Community Emergency Hub Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need Community Emergency Hubs?

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As we saw in the Canterbury earthquakes and other disasters around the world, the community will naturally come together to support one another after a disaster. Strong, connected communities are better prepared to respond to and recover from disasters.
In a major emergency, official responders will need to prioritise the most urgent issues, so it is likely that for the first few days you will need to help each other within your local community. The Hub is a designated place where you can gather, connect with one another and solve problems using the skills and resources which already exist among your community.

When is a Community Emergency Hub needed?

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A Community Emergency Hub is needed when there has been a major emergency where people need assistance, and the support needed is beyond the current capability of council and emergency services.

If official support is available from the council and emergency services, then you probably don't need to open a Hub.

What help and supplies are available at a Community Emergency Hub?

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There is no official assistance at the Hub.

Each Hub has a guide for how to coordinate the sharing of information, skills and resources in the community, and some basic equipment to get people started.

There are no supplies, food, water or blankets stored at Hubs. Our communities are full of beds with blankets on them, and pantries with food in them. You can gather the things you need at the time by asking the local community.

What's the role of WREMO and my council?

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WREMO leads and coordinates emergency management on behalf of the nine councils in the Wellington Region. Our role is to work with communities to plan for emergencies and practise how to organise an emergency response. Get involved by attending an event near you.

View our calendar of events and workshops

How do Hubs fit into the official emergency response?

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Each Community Emergency Hub has a two-way VHF radio in case phones and internet aren't working. The radio will allow the Hub to communicate with the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for your council area. At the Hub, you can use the radio to communicate about larger issues that your community hasn't been able to solve locally.

Who has access to open a Community Emergency Hub?

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Hubs are often located at community centres or schools, and anyone who has keys can open the doors for the community to use the Hub. This might be staff who live nearby, people who hire the facility regularly, or neighbours who have the keys. If you have the keys, then you can open a Hub when it's needed.

How can I access my Hub if there is no facility map in the guide?

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The location of each Hub is available here. To ensure access in an emergency is possible, WREMO works with facility owners to identify a minimum of six keyholders for each Hub who live in the surrounding area and understand their role in opening the facility after a major event.

Currently, not all Hub guides contain facility maps - WREMO is working with facility owners to create these maps for as close to 100% of Hubs before the end of June 2019. All keyholders have knowledge of the facilities and are aware of the location of Hub resources, so a map of each facility is desirable rather than essential.

Following discussion with facility owners, and contrary to what the current guides indicate, the facility maps will not show the location of the Hub lockboxes for security reasons.

We carry out regular training exercises at the Hubs so that community members can familiarise themselves with the layout of the facility and where the Hub kit is stored. If you would like to know more sign up to attend an event in your area.

Check out our calendar of events and workshops

How is a Community Emergency Hub run and who is in charge?

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Each Hub has a guide with descriptions and lanyards for the roles needed to coordinate an emergency response. These roles are supervisor, communications, information coordination, public information, reception, needs and offers, community space and facilities maintenance. Roles are allocated by agreement between whoever turns up. Anyone can be part of the Hub team on the day.

Can people from a Community Emergency Hub take the things they need from others?

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No.  Everything is through consensus, co-operation, and community generosity. People running the Hub cannot force anyone to provide or do anything that they do not want to do.

What do I do if my Community Emergency Hub doesn't open in an emergency?

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If the Hub has not opened, communities can try and find a keyholder or find another venue to set up the community support.

If the Hub building is damaged or there is a risk to safety from the surrounding area, then the Community Emergency Hub should not be opened.  If this happens, try to find another venue to set up the Hub.

How long does a Community Emergency Hub stay open?

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The Hub can stay open for as long as the community needs to be supported. It might have to move if the facility owners need their space back and will probably close overnight if there is no lighting.

What happened to Civil Defence Centres?

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The name was giving the impression that there would be official help available, but with 127 locations across the region, this is not the reality. To avoid confusion, we changed the name to Community Emergency Hubs to show that they are opened and run by the community when for some reason official help can't get there. Some of the street signs still say Civil Defence Centres and need to be changed.

How can I learn more about Community Emergency Hubs?

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Emergency Toilet Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need to manage my waste after an earthquake?

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A major earthquake in the Wellington region is likely to cause significant damage to the pipes that take away your poos and wees. It's important that people do not flush or use their normal toilet.

Damage to roads will also limit access around the region which will disrupt refuse collection services.

Members of the community will need to be self-sufficient for at least 30 days, but some parts of the region could be more, following an event and adapt their sanitation practices in the months following until wastewater networks are repaired.

After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake highlighted the lengthy restoration times of sewerage systems. A situation that is likely to be exacerbated in Wellington by the significant access difficulties expected after a significant earthquake

How can I manage by own waste after an earthquake?

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There are two main options for managing your wee and poo at home after an earthquake:

  1. Make a long drop
  2. Make a two-bucket emergency toilet
  3. (Only for those with mobility impairments): Place a sturdy plastic bag inside the toilet bowl.

Why was the long drop and two bucket options taken?

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The long drop and two bucket options were taken as the preferred emergency sanitation options because they were considered the most viable/technically feasible options for the Wellington region by most of the stakeholders involved in the waste-water system. 

How deep do I need to dig a hole for a long drop toilet?

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For a long drop, the Ministry of Health recommends the hole needs to be 1 metre deep, 30-40cm wide.
For a hole in your back garden to store your poos, it needs to be 50cm deep. 

Where should I dig the hole?

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Away from vegetable gardens and neighbours boundaries. Avoid waterways like rivers, streams and ground water.

How do I make a two-bucket emergency toilet?

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You will need two buckets: one bucket for wee and one for poo.

Bucket 1 - Wee:

  • Add 2-3cm of water to bucket before use
  • Don’t put toilet paper in this bucket
  • Empty daily into an area of your garden or other green space (dilute with water first)


Bucket 2 - Poo:

  • Add layer of mulch to bucket before use
  • After each use, add a handful of mulch to cover your poos and keep dry (to reduce the smell)
  • Empty every 3 days into the hole in your garden (50cm deep) or if you don't have a garden, empty into an outdoor lidded bin.
  • Menstrual cups should be emptied in this bucket.


Period products and nappies go in a normal rubbish bin.


Why can't I just put a plastic bag in my toilet?

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Plastic bags in toilets should only be used as a last resort for people who cannot use a long drop or two-bucket toilet (for example those with accessibility needs or limited mobility). There are two main reasons around why we don’t want people weeing and pooing into plastic bags (unless they really, really need to).

The first reason is public health and safety. When people are weeing and pooing into plastic bags this requires more close contact handling with their wees and poos and this increases the risk of gastro outbreaks.

The second part is for environmental reasons. When poos and wees are in a plastic bag they can’t be processed in the water treatment plant and will have to be sent to the landfill (much like your dog poo bags). When poos and wees are in a plastic bag they take a very long time to break and this would have a huge environmental impact on our region having everyone weeing and pooing into bags that end up in our landfill.

However, we know that for some people this might be their only practical solution (those with accessibility needs or limited mobility) so we have put it down as an absolute last resort.

It is important that wee in the bag is soaked up with absorbent materials such as sawdust or other super-absorbent material. This option is discouraged for the general population because of anticipated difficulties with sourcing of the bags and drying material, disposal of the resulting waste and potential for spillage and mess. 

Why do I need to seperate my poos and wees?

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Wees and poos combined together can get really smelly. Keeping your poos and wees separate will help keep the smell down and make it safer to handle. By keeping wee and poo separate, you will find that your bucket toilet is easier to empty and more hygienic.

How do I dispose of the wee and poo in my two bucket emergency toilet?

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  1. If you have an outdoor garden area where you can dig a 50cm hole - dispose of your poos in this hole. Keep your poo dry. Do not put your wees in this hole - dilute your wee bucket with water and dispose of in another area of your garden/green space.
  2. If you do not have a garden/green space area where you can dig a 50cm hole -dispose of your poos in your outdoor bin. Keep your poo as dry as possible. Dilute your wee bucket with water and dispose of your wees in an area of your garden/green space.

I have no garden/green space/live in an apartment - how do I dispose of my waste?

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If you have no garden/green space or live in an apartment, you can still use the two bucket system.

Put a sturdy bin liner in your poo bucket and dispose of your poo bag every 3 days in your normal apartment skip bin. For your wees, dilute with water and dispose in a green space outside. 

How often should I empty the buckets?

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  • Empty your wee bucket daily - dilute your wee bucket with water and dispose of in an area of your garden/green space.
  • Empty your poo bucket every 3 days or earlier if it is full. 

Should the buckets be indoors or outdoors?

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You can use your two-bucket toilet inside your home. Make sure to have it away from cooking areas and put a lid over the buckets when not in use. Empty your buckets outside into a hole in the ground or into an outdoor bin like a wheelie bin.

How do I keep my poos dry?

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Use mulch, sawdust, straw, kitty litter or shredded newspaper to keep your poo dry.

How many people should share a bucket? Does our whānau need more than 2 buckets?

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Your whānau can share a bucket, But if you have children, you may need to make your emergency toilet small enough for them to sit on it.

Where can I purchase buckets from?

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You can purchase sturdy buckets from hardware stores.  You can also use other sturdy containers such as small bins etc. 

The buckets are not very comfortable to sit on - how do I make it comfortable?

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  • You can cut a hole in a garden chair and place it over your bucket toilet or long–drop.
  • Toilet seats can be unscrewed from existing toilets and attached to the chair.
  • Wrap something soft around the top of the bucket to make it more comfortable to sit on such as a polystyrene, pool noodle etc.

Why can't we use chemical toilets/portaloos like after the Christchurch earthquake?

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There are a number of challenges associated with use of portaloos/chemical toilets.

Difficulties of collecting and treating the waste from chemical toilets and community portable toilets after a major earthquake make them an unviable solution for the Wellington region. Road access around the region could also be affected for days to months following as well, which would reduce the ability of to deliver these options. Common strong winds in Wellington also make portaloos prone to tipping.

Poor safety conditions, and maintenance are also issues. Concentrated effluent from chemical toilets or portaloos would have to be stored for drip-feeding into treatment plants.

Some of the challenges of chemical toilets/portaloos highlighted from the Christchurch experience were:

  • The supply was unable to meet demand
  • Takes a significant amount of time to source enough toilets to meet needs
  • Some people were required to walk quite a distance to use a port-a-loo
  • Safety issues at night time
  • Public health issues. Not being cleaned regularly for the number of people using them.
  • Labour intensive as they require pumping twice a day
  • Significant odour issues
  • Easily and regularly vandalised
  • Safety issues. Some were tipped over while people were using them
  • Lack of water and hand washing facilities (often not working)
  • Waste needs to be dumped in large communal tank, which users found difficult.
  • Impact on psychological well-being of community with the large number of people using one port-a-loo for extended periods of time.

What are the benefits of the two-bucket toilet versus portaloos and chemical toilets?

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  • Environmentally friendly, no chemicals used 
  • Smaller load factor – reduces the public health risk 
  • Easy to put together 
  • Storage containers do not need to be emptied daily 
  • Can be used in the home 
  • Requires minimal water  

How do I prevent getting sick by handling my own waste?

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  • Keep bucket contents separate from other household waste and cover them with extra mulch, straw, or soil.
  • After using the toilet wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water, or hand sanitiser. Dry your hands thoroughly.  If possible, use gloves when emptying buckets.
  • Rinse and clean the poo bucket after emptying. Disinfect with a dilute bleach solution if necessary. Make sure you are emptying and cleaning your buckets regularly.
  • Keep the toilet and waste material well separated from any food preparation areas. 

How should I dispose of menstrual products?

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Pads and tampons go into your regular waste bin. Empty menstrual cups into the emergency poo bucket. 

How do I dispose of nappies?

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Nappies go into your regular waste bin.

What if I can't afford to buy a emergency bucket toilet?

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You can also use other sturdy containers that you can find in your home such as small bins or storage containers.

The two bucket emergency toilet is too difficult for me to use - what should I do?

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If you can't use a two bucket toilet/ have mobility impairment, you can place a sturdy plastic bag inside your toilet. The bag needs to be big enough to cover the whole bowl to avoid spillage. Place some dry material in the bag to soak up your wees and poo - It's important that you try to soak up as much liquid as possible in the bag. Tie and dispose of your bag in a rubbish bin. Wash your hands thoroughly. 

What if I have a septic tank?

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If you have a septic tank, and you are confident that it is still operational and that the drainage field is not impacted, you can still use your septic tank. If there is damage to either the tank or the drainage field, contact your septic tank provider. 

Were the emergency toilet options/sanitation plan based on research?

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These options are based on research conducted by Massey University and a series of stakeholder workshops.

Recognising the potential for lengthy outages of wastewater and following experiences in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake response, Massey University and WREMO collaborated on a pilot of a two-bucket emergency toilet. An emergency compost toilet trial was undertaken in October and November 2012 to determine whether compost toilets could be a viable alternative to port-a-loos or chemical toilets in an event that sewerage systems are disrupted. The trial was funded by the National Emergency Management Agency.

Following this, a number of workshops were held with stakeholders involving Massey University, Te Whatu Ora, Wellington Water, WREMO, Ngāti Toa, local councils, and managers and contractors of solid waste.

Have you considered cultural aspects of this plan?

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The emergency sanitation solutions allow end-users to choose their preferred option, allowing for a range of behaviours, cultures and capacities. Māori representatives guided the cultural aspects of the plan. 

Was there consultation on this sanitation plan?

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Consultation was with all key stakeholders managing and responding to an emergency sanitation plan - Massey University, Te Whatu Ora, Wellington Water, WREMO, Ngāti Toa, local councils, and managers and contractors of solid waste.

What are the 'target levels of service'?

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The target levels of service were created to have realistic solutions and restoration goals for all organisations involved in the restoration of the waste water system after a major earthquake. The target levels of service are:

  • First 7 days - self-sufficiency by the community for sanitation needs. Until the wastewater networks are repaired - residents to dispose of wee and poo on their property.
  • From day 8 - if the roads are available and all other systems operational (e.g. fuel supply), options 3 and 4 (as shown in the infographic) will also be viable.

Who was involved in the sanitation plan project?

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Massey University led a collaboration with Wellington Water, Regional Public Health, WREMO and the councils to understand the process of capture, containment, emptying and transport, treatment and disposal or re-use of excreta, if using the two bucket system. This led to the councils, WREMO, Wellington Water and Te Whatu Ora/Regional Public Health to conduct a project including a wider range of stakeholders to plan for emergency sanitation. Stakeholders were from Ngāti Toa, the disability sector and managers and contractors of solid waste.