Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Future of GeoNet Revisited - Part 1

Recently a reader of this blog asked me what more would GeoNet be able to do in 10 years’ time? At first I thought – what is he talking about - I answered that question in the GeoNet 2023 blog series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), didn’t I?  But he wasn’t meaning the technical details I had outlined, but what more would GeoNet be contributing to the wellbeing of New Zealanders and the wider world community? Or in current terms – how would GeoNet be helping to make communities more resilient (now that resilience is the new black, or is that orange)?

In 2001 GeoNet was brand new, and to me it still has much development ahead. But with a history approaching 15 years, we have to ask - what has been GeoNet’s major contribution, and where can we contribute more?

Nature was kind to GeoNet giving us all those years up to 2009 to develop the system before the largest and most prolonged series of geological hazards events in more than 80 years started. The period of “peace time” (for GeoNet and New Zealand) ended in 2009:

During the period from 2009 until recently GeoNet transitioned from being a fast growing sensor network using many of the techniques of data handling and delivery developed earlier in the 2000s, to a powerful resource for emergency responders, scientists, engineers, the media and public. We embraced social media, mobile technology and our mission to inform.  We upgraded our earthquake analysis system while “under fire” from continuing Canterbury aftershocks, and continuously redeveloped our website and information delivery systems to cope with ever increasing load.

We became an example of a New Zealand high technology project which not only did not fail (almost an oxymoron), but also became an important part of the lives of many New Zealanders. And we did this within a fixed but flexible budget (and with the blessing of our sponsors, the Earthquake Commission - EQC) and without increasing staff numbers (in fact with a small reduction in total staff).

Our success has been highlighted by IT awards, and has been acknowledged by review panels and studies. For example the 2012 GeoNet Strategic Review panel concluded:

“GNS Science and EQC have worked together to develop a long-term, high-trust, mutually beneficial partnership. Together in GeoNet they have created a gem – a brilliant example of government agencies collaborating effectively together to create public value”

And similarly, to quote the recent EQC commissioned New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) report "The value of information on natural hazards":

“GeoNet is now at the hub of a wider community of practice of researchers and users that extends well beyond GNS and EQC. This wider network, which GeoNet has enabled, has yielded direct but unforeseen benefits to New Zealand. For example, because of the quality of the GeoNet data infrastructure, New Zealand is able to leverage others research spending. Other geological agencies are doing detailed work in New Zealand. As one respondent observed ‘New Zealand is now the global geo-hazard laboratory for the world’”.

I believe we have achieved success because of our belief that what we do is important and this underpinned our dedication to providing data, information and insight to help New Zealanders respond to the unprecedented series of events we were facing.

But we achieved the required performance by delaying some equipment installations and replacements and redirecting resources, and sometimes by stopping doing some tasks and delivering some services. And often we did not introduce new products and services even when we knew they were or would soon be needed. This has left us in catch up mode, meaning sustaining GeoNet’s current level of performance and making sure data and information are made easily available must be one of our primary goals.

In the GeoNet 2023 blogs I was concentrating on the technology (one of my BIG interests), but in the next blog I will turn my attention to a more holistic view of how GeoNet can contribute even more in the future.