While we can’t predict when earthquakes will occur, scientific research has shown that the Alpine Fault has an unusually regular history of producing large earthquakes. Over the last 8000 years, the Alpine Fault has ruptured 27 times, on average that’s every 300 years. The last significant quake on the Alpine Fault was in 1717. The next severe earthquake on the Alpine Fault is likely to occur within the lifetime of most of us, or our children.

Research conducted by the University of Canterbury, University of Otago and GNS Science has assessed some of the environmental impacts we can expect from the next earthquake of Magnitude 8 or greater on the Alpine Fault. Until now, however, there has been no comprehensive study of the impacts a rupture would have on people living in communities across the South Island and our infrastructure.

AF8 (Alpine Fault Magnitude 8) is a three-year programme of scientific modelling, response planning and community engagement designed to address that knowledge gap. It’s a partnership of all the Emergency Management Groups in the South Island, funded by the Government through the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management’s Resilience Fund. It involves scientists from six universities and Crown Research Institutes, emergency services, lifelines, iwi, health authorities and many other partner agencies. The project is managed by Emergency Management Southland.

AF8 timeline

2016-17 – Scientific modelling to develop the most credible scenario for a rupture on the Alpine Fault.

This work began in August 2016. Thirty specialists from New Zealand Universities, Crown Research Institutes and consultancies came together as a multi-disciplinary team under the leadership of Dr Caroline Orchiston. They reviewed what was already known about the Alpine Fault and developed a scenario for the next severe earthquake and the foreseeable impacts, which then formed the basis of planning for a coordinated response in the week immediately following the next rupture.

The science workshops were followed by a series of forums across the South Island and in Wellington. These introduced the Alpine Fault earthquake scenario to each Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group and our partner agencies and kickstarted local discussions about the practicalities and challenges of responding to a significant earthquake. Read the reports from each workshop HERE.


2017-18 – Development of the SAFER Framework

The South Island Alpine Fault Earthquake Response (SAFER) Framework applies the scientific modelling to a coordinated response across the South Island to a significant earthquake on the Alpine Fault.  The framework covers the first seven days after the quake. It assumes that in the initial stages of response, each region will react independently according to its immediate needs but in a coordinated manner enabled by the common approach and priorities established through the SAFER Framework.


2018-19 – Engagement, Planning and Preparing

Once the SAFER Framework has been adopted, each CDEM Group and agency will use it to focus on detailed preparation and planning. That means engaging our communities, iwi, lifelines agencies, emergency services, businesses and a host of others to plan and prepare in a coordinated way for a severe earthquake on the Alpine Fault. The result will be a coordinated, mutually supportive, sustainable response across the South Island, to minimise loss of life and provide for the immediate and short-term needs of our affected communities.


2019-20 – Transition the AF8 programme.

Fully preparing for a significant earthquake on the Alpine Fault will continue long after the three years of national funding for AF8. The intention is that the project will transition to an ongoing programme of planning, preparedness and activity. MCDEM has scheduled a national exercise in 2020 based on an Alpine Fault rupture.