Explosive Shortland Street’s 25th Anniversary Show includes a volcanic eruption: is this a thing?

Thursday 25 May 2017

Celebrating 25 years of exotic cliff-hangers and plot twists, Shortland Street, a 25-year running New Zealand based soap opera, pulled out all the stops, including a volcanic eruption for its 25th anniversary show.

And what was GeoNet’s part in all of this? Well, six weeks ago our volcano team, were approached by a research-writer of the show, asking for some guidance. We played our hand at being consultants on the possibilities and realities of an Auckland volcanic scenario.  The producers provided several scenarios but we were not told which one would make it on screen. So, we had some inside knowledge of what was planned to mark the 25th anniversary, but the details of how the story would play out on screen were kept a hot secret.  We were also sworn to secrecy not to reveal any details of the upcoming story lines.

Because we didn’t know the outcome of the scenario, our duty team was then given an unusual assignment: watch Shortland Street (some never have!). We admit that our volcanology team were erupting with excitement as they settled in for the 90-minute show. Then, they were given the task to report back on what was fact and what was under “creative license”.

Here’s what the team had to say:

The story line did a great job drawing out several key themes that are related to volcanic events. The major ones covered are;

  • earthquakes are a credible part of volcanic unrest that occurs before an eruption. 
  • People will be unsettled or saying it's nothing (a natural reaction). 
  • Once the eruption started many themes were covered, like people putting table napkins on as masks (bandit style), these will only give a very low level of protection, but in an emergency are better than nothing.  
  • The phone and power problems (engineering lifeline issues) are very real. 
  • It was good to see the gas hazard; may have been overplayed with deaths/affects. 

Some aspects of the volcanic eruption were portrayed poorly:

  • Ash density was one issue...it was too light and stayed in the air too long, the use of low visibility was good though.
  • The eruption was over quickly; in real life, it would last a lot longer.  

Overall though, aspects of the volcanic hazards were portrayed well. There was no lava, that is credible at the start of an eruption.

The questions regarding ash toxicity were good, this is usually not too much of a health issue, and may cause irritation and inflammation of the eyes and possibly skin. And may cause more problems for those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses. The story line depicted the risks of trying to work and move in an ashy environment quite well…. best to avoid all travel outside. Ash ingress to buildings would have been higher with the amount of door openings. Also, it seemed like there was a lot of self-evacuation, no evacuations by officials - credible if onset is this fast. The story line was very low on official responses, CDEM messages, GeoNet messages, Volcanic Aert Levels etc. However, gas and wind modelling was covered.

Many aspects of the human responses were well covered; people been scared and anxious – this is likely. Also, people reuniting-understanding where and how friends/family are being a real priority for many, and challenging. Domestic violence increasing during and after disasters is credible. However, the use of ash masks as gas masks, is not credible. People giving birth, life goes on during a disaster.

Having viewed the show, ourselves, we think it’s reasonable that you all may be wondering “Could this really happen?” (or maybe some of you aren’t)

Regardless, here’s a bit more detail and explanation about the Volcanic Auckland Field. The Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF) is a unique volcano environment in New Zealand. Rather than the volcano being in a fixed location like Ruapehu or Taranaki, each volcano in Auckland is in a new location; naturally there is an exception and that is Rangitoto Island. It has erupted 2, maybe 3 times, and the only volcano in Auckland to have done that. The last eruption in the AFV was about 600 years ago.

Aside from the mixed feelings around the quality of acting and portrayal of the volcanic impacts we have, our overall opinion of the Shortland Street episode was an 8/10. It is rewarding to see geological processes are becoming a little more mainstream. GeoNet exists to help New Zealanders’ live with the hazards that make our country, well, our country. Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and all the events we experience are part of what makes us Kiwi’s. GeoNet likes to encourage conversations around our geohazards so a full episode on Shortland Street, especially when it’s Dr Chris Warner birthday, blew our expectations.

Quote of the show:

“I’ve come from the mountain.  This is a cleansing fire, only the strong will survive”

Thanks to the Shortand Street team for talking to us about this project. Well done.


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