By Siouxsie Wiles 07/09/2015


Picture this. A new virus, Mortenza, is sweeping around the world, killing millions. Despite all efforts, Mortenza reaches New Zealand and rapidly spreads around the country. In desperation, the Government isolates the tiny uninfected island of Great Barrier. How would this small community cope? Would they survive the pandemic?

This is the fascinating scenario I’ll be exploring this coming weekend in an exciting event being held on Great Barrier Island and organised by the island’s Awana Rural Women. I’ve been tasked with moderating a panel of experts to explore just how likely a scenario like Mortenza is, and what would happen if it did. How would the people of Great Barrier keep law and order? How would they stop people trying to get onto the island? And what would happen if their only doctor died?

While Mortenza may sound far-fetched, the scenario itself is a great opportunity for the 900 people living on Great Barrier Island to think about how they can better prepare themselves and their families and neighbours for any emergency or natural disaster, which was the reason Awana Rural Women president Gendie Somerville-Ryan decided to organise the event. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for all of us to think about what we would do in an emergency. First stop: a visit to the Get Ready, Get Thru website!

You can listen to Kathryn Ryan’s interview with Gendie on Radio New Zealand here or click play below.

The panelists

To discuss the scenario and answer all the community’s pressing questions, I’m joined by four panellists: a virologist, a civil defence expert, a social scientist specialising in crisis decision making and a science fiction writer.

Associate Professor Lance Jennings is a clinical virologist at Canterbury District Health Board and director of New Zealand’s WHO National Measles Laboratory. Lance has been instrumental in the development of flu control strategies for New Zealand, including the introduction of free vaccines and pandemic planning. Who better to pull out the facts from the fiction in the Mortenza scenario!

John Titmus, of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, is the Northern Regional Coordinator responsible for supporting the four northern Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups. A former member of the Royal New Zealand Navy, John is part of a team which leads disaster management capability building in the Pacific and led the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Teams into Sri Lanka during the Boxing day Tsunami and into Louisiana USA during Hurricane Katrina.

Professor David Johnston is a Senior Scientist at GNS Science and director of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research in the School of Psychology at Massey University. His research focuses on human responses to volcano, tsunami, earthquake and weather warnings, crisis decision-making and the role of public education and participation in building community resilience and recovery.

Karen Healey is a teacher and the author of the young adult fantasy novels Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering, which are set in contemporary New Zealand, the science fiction duology When We Wake and While We Run, set in a future Australia, and several short stories. Karen’s books have been variously awarded an Aurealis Award, a Sir Julius Vogel Award, several Storyline Notable Book most recently, the NZ Post Teen Choice Award. They have been finalists for the Cybils, the Inkys, the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, the LIANZA awards, and the William C. Morris Debut Book Award, and regularly feature on best-of-the-year book lists.