Master of disaster

The role of engineers in post-disaster recovery will be brought to light at an upcoming lecture at Victoria University of Wellington.

Professor Regan Potangaroa (Ngāti Kahungunu) has dedicated his career to research that “has meaning, and makes a difference”.

He has travelled to more than 26 countries, including Pakistan, Syria, Haiti and Afghanistan, using his specialist skills in engineering and architecture in the wake of natural disasters and conflict.

In his inaugural professorial lecture next week, he will describe the complex role played by technology in post-disaster recovery, and argue that engineering and architecture have enormous potential to solve issues that arise.

In 2005, Professor Potangaroa was awarded the New Zealand Special Service Medal, Asian Tsunami, which recognised his relief efforts following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. He developed and implemented a permanent housing programme in Banda Aceh.

While he was based in Haiti following the 2010 earthquakes, he assisted with the design and placement of retaining walls that would prevent further flood damage in occupied areas. Last year, he led a trip to Fiji looking at recovery and rebuilding post-Cyclone Winston.

He has been taken hostage twice, and medically evacuated seven times.

Much of Professor Potangaroa’s work is on behalf of international organisations, including the United Nations, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and CARE International.

Professor Potangaroa also carries out work closer to home—working with Māori in New Zealand on issues such as the process of earthquake strengthening Marae.

New Zealanders experience problems that are on par with the humanitarian disasters he has worked in overseas, says Regan.

“We have people who have fearlessly faced the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, the community rebuild in Kaikoura as well as Māori housing in west Auckland. We as academics also need to be courageous in these situations.”