About the Joint Centre for Disaster Research

This Centre opened in December 2006 and is a joint venture between Massey University and GNS Science within the School of Psychology and is based at the Wellington Campus of Massey University.

The Centre aims to provide leadership, coordination and delivery of disaster risk and emergency management research, teaching and capability building. We undertake a multi-disciplinary applied teaching, research and professional development aimed at:

  • Gaining a better understanding of the impacts of natural, man-made and environmental disasters on communities
  • Improving the way society manages natural, man-made and environmental risk
  • Enhancing community preparedness, response and recovery from the consequences of natural, man-made and environmental hazard events.

The Centre coordinates the Emergency Management teaching programme, which is entering its 27th year and has produced over 100 graduates. This programme was the first interdisciplinary multi-college emergency management tertiary education programme available within New Zealand. It has a particular focus on psychology and psychosocial aspects of disasters and emergency response and recovery.

The Joint Centre for Disaster Research is a section of the School of Psychology, in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences of Massey University and staff and students are based at the Wellington Campus of Massey University (Building T20). We have partnerships with a range of local and international organizations including GNS Science, University of Canterbury, GeoNet, and University of Auckland along with contributions from leading specialists. The Centre also draws on staff expertise from other Massey campuses. Visits to the Centre are welcomed, but by appointment please.

Mexico Office

The Centre’s Dr Thomas Huggins is currently based in Colima, Mexico. Through their Mexican Office the Centre has established a working relationship with the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Colima State Red Cross. All three parties are working to manage public health impacts of ash fall from the Colima Volcano.

The Mexican Office also works in collaboration with a new NGO called the Centro Machilia for Educational Evaluation and Development (Centro Machilia). This collaboration is working to improve earthquake drills in schools with a very high and reliable level of seismic engineering.

Leading the way in disaster research

Download a profile of JCDR Emergency Management (1,457 KB)

Research Capabilities

Improving Community Resilience
This research involves developing a model to assess the factors that make a community withstand the consequences of natural hazards. Some of these factors are psychological, behavioural, and community aspects that positively influence community resilience. We also analyse the role of hazard mitigation in community fulfilment, growth and development.

Emergency Management Planning
We research the impact of specific natural hazard events and the effectiveness of planning, communicating and training within and between responding organisations.

Our research and consulting services in this area include:

  • developing and reviewing natural hazard management plans (e.g. floodplain management)
  • developing and reviewing Civil Defence Emergency Management Plans
  • integrating emergency management structures and procedures
  • coordinating response agencies
  • advising on and developing appropriate response warning systems
  • evacuation planning
  • planning for gathering of crisis information and crisis decision-making.

Hazard Education
Research is focussed on community understanding of, and preparedness for, natural hazard events. Results are used to design education strategies to meet the specific needs of communities (through local authorities), businesses, schools and others. Recent studies are directed towards community understanding of natural hazards in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

We produce brochures, posters, maps and other educational tools to inform the public about:

  • natural hazards phenomena
  • impacts and consequences of natural hazards
  • planning for natural hazard events

We also run annual courses focused on understanding natural hazards, and ways that individuals, communities, organisations and government can plan to avoid and manage the consequences of disasters. Courses are aimed at anyone with an interest or role in assessing, managing or communicating the risks associated with natural hazards. The courses cover natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides.

Public Response To Warning Systems
Research is aimed at improving public response to warning systems for tsunami, eruptions, lahars and dam-break floods, which involves:

  • assessing warning systems and needs against examples of effective end-to-end warning systems internationally
  • researching the effectiveness of warning systems in emergencies to understand what makes them work or fail and what makes people respond correctly
  • studying existing training approaches among emergency response agencies and ways to improve these
  • developing and implementing new training methods
  • on-site analyses of operating and environmental conditions and how these impact on warning system effectiveness
  • conducting hazard event simulations and evacuation exercises involving the community to evaluate the effectiveness of warning systems
  • surveying communities to understand how they respond to warning systems, and their attitudes to natural hazard risk.


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