Learning from the Christchurch Quakes

By Michael Edmonds 04/03/2011 1

On September the 4th 2010, a magnitude 7.1 quake hit Christchurch in the early morning. I can still remember leaping out of bed, and huddling under a doorway with my partner as the house felt like it was collapsing around us. The moment it stopped, it took me less than a minute to assemble a bag containing water and canned food if we had to leave. We didn’t lose power, and only lost water for a couple of days, though other parts of Christchurch fared much worst. And because of the timing no-one was killed. And we were back at work withing 10 days time

From this earthquake, I learnt several things:

1) ALWAYS have the following within arms reach – cellphone, wallet, keys and memory stick (spends most of its time around my neck). This applies both at home and at work.

2) Always have a bottle of water in your car.

3) Be aware of your surrounding in terms of where the exits and structurally safest areas are.

4) Don’t park your car near brick walls or large buildings if you can help it. (some people thought this was a bit silly but just look at the number of cars crushed during the second quake).

5) Have an emergency bag of water and canned goods near the door.

6) I made sure I had a list of staff contact numbers in my work bag.

Having learnt my lesson, life then continued as normal. At times I felt a little paranoid about not being out of reach of my cellphone, and the emergency kit, but I felt prepared in case of another emergency.

However, the 6.3 magnitude quake on February the 22nd showed me how wrong I was.

I was in Auckland at a Science Communicators conference when the second quake hit. The room the conference was in had poor cell phone reception, so it wasn’t until after 1 pm and every left the room that cells phones started to go off. A text from my partner told me to ring him urgently but it took me an hour to get through as the phone lines were overloaded. However, I could access a long panicked message from him describing the damage – cupboards emptied in the kitchen, the study knee deep in books, TV on the floor and a driveway oozing water and silt. At least the message told me he was ok. As the days have rolled on since then, I returned to Christchurch, helped tidy up, distributed goods to people, made plans to get back to work. I have wept with so many others over the loss of life.

I have also learnt that my preparations, following the first quake were woefully inadequate. While the first quake gave our emergency services a invaluable “test run”, I suspect it also lulled some of us into a false sense of preparedness. The second quake was a great lesson in humility for me, and I suspect others over Natures power.

Since the second quake, I have made changes to be better prepared:

1) The emergency bag now contains water, canned food, a decent first aid kit, torches a transistor radio, batteries, toilet paper, water purification tablets, dried food. It is in a backpack for easy carrying.

2) The emergency kit also contains a can opener this time! Although I have since noticed that many cans now come with pull top lids so have added a couple of these as well.

3) My car now has a small first aid kit in it, plus water.

4) My bicycle is towards the front of the garage.

5) In an emergency I will TEXT not talk. And short simple messages are all that are needed.

6) The next chance I get I will be redoing my first aid training which is woefully out of date.

7) As much as possible, I keep my cellphone and laptop as fully charged as possible.

8) During the last quake our work server remained running and I was able to contact many staff by email. This time it went down. Colleagues have now set up a Facebook page which is working very well, and I am entering their contact numbers into my phone.

9) I finally have twitter on my phone – it has proved invaluable in finding out information about what is going on – where the emergency centres and supplies are, who has power and water, and some brilliant ideas and pieces of advice from a whole range of people.

These are only a few of the practical things I have learnt. Most of all I have learnt that material things aren’t important. It’s people who are important and not just family and friends, but also your neighbours, workmates and strangers who will help each other in times of need.

One Response to “Learning from the Christchurch Quakes”

  • Thanks for sharing your insights. We who have not lived through your experience appreciate the opportunity to be better prepared. Emergency kit in a back-pack – BRILLIANT IDEA! And I shall be adding a memory stick with key files too.