Natural hazards and emergencies

Infrastructure failure

Auckland has suffered several infrastructure failures in the past including loss of power, a water crisis and gas supply disruption. The source of failure can be local or may originate from outside of the region and can be a result of natural or technological hazards, human error, equipment failure, or poor maintenance.
The risk of infrastructure failure can be significant. It’s managed by each individual utility undertaking comprehensive asset management planning to reduce the possibility of failure and ensure that services are re-established as soon as possible if failure does occur. Most of these companies have representatives on the Auckland Engineering Lifelines Group (AELG) which investigates and manages the risk of infrastructure failure.



Auckland has had several large power cuts.

The 1998 Mercury power crisis involved four power cables failing. Power supplies were cut to downtown Auckland for six weeks. 

Impacts included:

  • severe disruption to services and businesses - 400 businesses were directly affected
  • economic loss to those firms affected especially retail, hospitality and industrial sectors
  • an estimated long-term economic impact equivalent to 0.1 to 0.3 per cent of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product.
  • 54 per cent of businesses in the area being forced to vacate, affecting 70,000 workers and 7500 residents.

On 12 June 2006, a failure at the Otahuhu substation caused a large six hour blackout affecting 230,000 customers. This outage caused disruption to rail and traffic services, radio transmission, phone services and caused partial hospital closures.

In 2009, electricity was cut to about 280,000 people in Northland and parts of Auckland. New Zealand’s only oil refinery at Marsden Point had to be temporarily shut down. A forklift hitting one of two circuits while the other was out for maintenance caused the outage.

A fault in 2011 occurred just outside the Huntly Power Station between generators and the connection to the national power grid. The fault caused various parts of the North Island to lose power for several hours. 


Water supply

Around 80 per cent of Auckland’s water supply originates from reservoirs in the Hunua and Waitakere Ranges and is managed, treated and distributed by Watercare Services Limited. 

In the summer of 1994-1995 Auckland suffered a drought caused by well below average rainfall. As a result, water restrictions were put in place and subsequent measures implemented to upgrade the capacity of the city’s supplies. At the time, there was a 1 in 25 chance of a drought that severe occurring again. Since then improvements to the water supply system mean that a drought that severe would be expected to occur on average once every 200 years. 

Visit the Watercare website for more information.

Wastewater services

Each day around 350 million litres of wastewater is collected in Auckland and treated by 20 wastewater plants. Most of Auckland’s water is dependent on two plants - the Mangere or Rosedale treatment works.

Wastewater system failure within the Auckland region could result in:

  • evacuation and closure of some organisations or businesses within affected areas depending on the nature of failure
  • sanitation and biological hazards including the outbreak of sewage-borne diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and cholera
  • overloading of operational parts of system, resulting in overflows, possible coastal pollution and human and animal health problems requiring medical attention or hospitalisation
  • a costly cleanup caused by any contamination.

Watercare also manages Auckland’s wastewater system.


Natural gas

High-pressure pipelines from offshore gas fields near Taranaki transport most of Auckland’s domestic and commercial gas supplies. In October 2011, the largest of these pipelines ruptured causing a significant reduction to gas supplies to much of the North Island.

In Auckland, the widespread effects included:

  • disruption and temporary closures of restaurants, fast food chains and similar small businesses
  • disruption and temporary closure of facilities at hotels, swimming pools and gyms
  • disruption to Council facilities such as crematoriums, library and art galleries
  • temporary closures or a reduction in production at large commercial properties and industries reliant on gas.

A large network of pipes distributes gas across the Auckland region. Damage to this network can occur from natural events, poor maintenance or human error, such as excavations.

Damage may result in:

  • possible evacuations of the affected area
  • fire as a result of explosions
  • inconvenience to businesses or residential properties reliant on gas for cooking and heating
  • gas inhalation impacting health
  • spread of gas through underground networks requiring closure and potential evacuation of large areas.


Most of Auckland’s fuel comes from the Refining NZ Marsden Point refinery and is transferred via the Wiri Pipeline to a depot in south Auckland. From there, aviation fuel is distributed directly to Auckland Airport and commercial fuel is distributed across the region by tanker. Disruption to the refinery, pipeline or fuel distribution network would have significant impacts including:

  • panic buying and congestion at fuel stations which would quickly deplete available fuel stocks
  • social disorder due to loss of petroleum-run transport
  • economic loss to the petroleum industry and associated industries due to loss of supply
  • pipeline failure resulting in fire and then costs associated with clean-up
  • adverse environmental effects if fuel is spilt, particularly in or around marine areas.

Although most fuel supply disruptions can and will be managed by the fuel and oil industry stakeholders, an Auckland Fuel Contingency Plan has been developed in case of a major or prolonged fuel supply shortage.



The telecommunications sector is one of the most complex of the lifeline utility sectors. This is due to the rapid change of technology, providers and customer preferences. Another factor is the level of inter-connectedness between the various providers which share parts of the network and exchange messages between networks. 

Failure of telecommunication systems could result in:

  • user overload especially during large emergencies
  • emergency services losing communication
  • short-term economic loss to businesses and industries
  • negative impacts on banks and financial systems.

Several situations involving telecommunication failure have occurred in Auckland, including:

  • 2005 - Two separate cable faults paralysed Telecom’s broadband and mobile networks in the North Island. This led to overloaded landlines and crashed the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX).
  • 2010 - Parts of Telecom’s new XT network failed. Calls in and out of the mobile network failed in different areas of New Zealand throughout the year as did the broadband service. The national 111 service was affected.
  • 2011 - A fiber optic cable failure led to a number of police stations without certain services. Police headquarters, 130 police stations and three communications centres had to use manual processing for some procedures with efficiency loss.



The Auckland Airport is the gateway for around three quarters of New Zealand’s overseas visitors. In the 12 months to July 2010, 13.5 million passengers and 200,000 tonnes of freight passed through the airport. Smaller airports that operate in Auckland include Hobsonville, Whenuapai, Ardmore, Dairy Flat and some on the Gulf Islands.

Shutdown or disruption of airport operations may result in:

  • disruption of travel plans to tens of thousands of passengers each day resulting in stretched accommodation facilities for prolonged periods of shut-down
  • loss of income and opportunities for businesses and industries dependant on airport facilities
  • long-term economic losses to the tourism, export and import industries.


Business that depend on Ports of Auckland operations account for about one third of Auckland’s economic activity. Billions of dollars of exports and imports pass through each year, mostly the port in the Central Business District (CBD) but also through a smaller port that operates at Onehunga. Both of these ports are built on reclaimed land, which means they are likely to be damaged during a large earthquake. 

The ports could cease to operate for a number of reasons such as, ship strike of a major berth, vessels sinking in or around shipping lanes, union strikes or other natural/technological hazards. 

Any of these events could result in:

  • disruption to transport industries if cargo could no longer be received or dispatched
  • short-term economic loss to businesses and industries associated with port operations
  • long-term economic loss, particularly for prolonged events or major disruption
  • structural damage and large clean-up costs.


Auckland’s rail network is a single north-south trunk line with minor branches connecting to the CBD, the Port of Onehunga and Manukau. In many instances, the line consists of two or three tracks, meaning that if one is damaged by a hazard the others are likely to be also. Around 35,000 passengers commute and large amounts of freight are transported each day. 

Disruption to the rail network can include:

  • disruption and economic loss related to stranded workers and customers
  • traffic congestion as rail users seek alternative forms of transport
  • large structural repair and clean-up costs.

The system also relies on a signal system run by KiwiRail in Wellington. In April 2012, an outage occurred at Wellington’s National Train Control about 4pm after backup systems failed. This disrupted Auckland’s afternoon and evening peak-time trains for some hours. If an earthquake occurs in Wellington causing a similar failure, Auckland’s train service could be severely affected until power could be restored.


Auckland’s strategic arterial roads include all motorways and state highways. Geographical restrictions of the Auckland isthmus cause a bottleneck effect and the road network can be susceptible to congestion, particularly during peak commuting times. Failure to one or more of the arterial routes may result from a variety of sources such as a major accident or structural damage from a natural hazard.

Impacts may include:

  • fatalities or injury to drivers, passengers, other road users and pedestrians
  • traffic congestion causing disruption to airports, industrial areas and tourist centres
  • drivers seeking alternative routes causing traffic congestion along adjacent arterial roads
  • panic buying and supply issues because of disruption to goods delivery
  • stretched emergency services potentially leading to social disorder
  • economic loss to businesses isolated by road network failure
  • disruption and economic loss related to stranded workers and customers
  • large structural repair and clean-up costs
  • if a bridge collapses, telecommunication lines could be severed and the cost of repair or reconstruction could be significant.

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