The recent Marlborough earthquakes seem to have finally spurred most people into getting their emergency kits together (I have my own version of this – see bottom of post for more details) and to just be that little more prepared. I know for us, despite being well prepared in many ways for years (I did an intense emergency management course through my work about 10 years ago – boring as hell, but it certainly made me make sure I had a good civil defence kit and plan!), we had been quite complacent with some things…including securing our TV and a couple of our shelves!
That said, Friday’s rock’n'roll sessions seemed to show that the planning re what to do immediately after an earthquake is in its infancy for the majority of people. The sheer volume of people, who spilled out onto the streets on Friday then jumped in their cars to and caused massive congestion in a panicked effort to get home, indicated that perhaps many of us could do with a Civil Defence refresher!
Here’s how I think most Wellingtonians should have reacted – cool, calm, collected….but perhaps maybe going for the doorframe instead of a half desk:
A few years ago the government set up a website called Get Thru. This gives detailed advice on how to create a household plan, what to put in your emergency kit at home and your getaway kit (something few seem to have)!).
They also give the following advice on what to do during and immediately after an earthquake:
DURING AN EARTHQUAKE
If you are inside a building, move no more than a few steps, drop, cover and hold. Stay indoors till the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. In most buildings in New Zealand you are safer if you stay where you are until the shaking stops.
If you are in an elevator, drop, cover and hold. When the shaking stops, try and get out at the nearest floor if you can safely do so.
If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move no more than a few steps away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines, then Drop, Cover and Hold.
If you are at the beach or near the coast, drop, cover and hold then move to higher ground immediately in case a tsunami follows the quake.
If you are driving, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops, proceed with caution and avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged.
If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling debris or landslides.
AFTER AN EARTHQUAKE
Listen to your local radio stations as emergency management officials will be broadcasting the most appropriate advice for your community and situation.
Expect to feel aftershocks.
Check yourself for injuries and get first aid if necessary. Help others if you can.
Be aware that electricity supply could be cut, and fire alarms and sprinkler systems can go off in buildings during an earthquake even if there is no fire. Check for, and extinguish, small fires.
If you are in a damaged building, try to get outside and find a safe, open place. Use the stairs, not the elevators. *
Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and stay out of damaged areas.
Only use the phone for short essential calls to keep the lines clear for emergency calls.
If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window, get everyone out quickly and turn off the gas if you can. If you see sparks, broken wires or evidence of electrical system damage, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box if it is safe to do so.
Keep your animals under your direct control as they can become disorientated. Take measures to protect your animals from hazards, and to protect other people from your animals.
If your property is damaged, take notes and photographs for insurance purposes. If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.
* Note that in Wellington we are also in a tsunami hazard zone, which means we have to be prepared for this too. The reason being if there is a big enough earthquake in the Marlborough/Wellington region (so maybe the same or stronger than what we have already had) there is a strong possibility we might also be hit with a local tsunami…for which we may only get a few minutes warning.
This means if you are in a big building in the CBD you may be best to stay put and go as high up the building as possible, even if damaged. If there is debris all over the roads it may be difficult to take your getaway kit and race up the town belt. Personally, if I worked in the CBD I would be checking this out for myself – if you only have 5 minutes to avoid a tsunami then you are going to have to make a split second decision and I would be wanting to ensure I was making the best possible decision, that I was prepared.
Which brings me to the emergency kit stuff. Aside from all the basics detailed on the Get Thru website (that everyone should already know by heart and already have in a kit!), I have also added what I consider to be priority items to our main home emergency kit and both our getaway bags (1 is the family bag and the other is for hubby when he goes to work). This is something we make a point of taking with us wherever we go, along with comfortable shoes as well as coats and hats in winter. Hubby used to hate it, but after the recent earthquakes he finally recognises I have a point! The added extras I have included in our kits are as follows:
- Gloves and a hardhat in case we want to get back into the house to retrieve stuff before they cordoned it off! I am assuming that there would be a lot of broken stuff and that the structure of the house might be dodgy
- Earplugs – communal sleeping can be quite difficult (sold at Mitre 10)
- A pair of old reading glasses as a back up, along with spare contacts & solution (a must for those of us with poor eyesight!)
- Enough emergency ponchos for the family (sold at Mitre 10)
- Spare emergency blankets
- Spare latex gloves (for helping people with injuries)
- Spare leads for the dogs
- Plenty of spare plastic bags for our rubbish and for picking up dog poo
- Lighters to burn used toilet paper
- Girlie products – if you are on the pill/use contraceptives then this may be something you want to include too…
- Copies of our main IDs (if you can’t get back home this is particularly important as you will most probably need ID at some point to collect any assistance you might be entitled to)
- A contents inventory list where I have listed everything from towels, bedding, cutlery, crockery, frames, books, CDs, gardening tools, inside/outside appliances……along with anything that is essentially not nailed down and that goes outside the standard stuff most include when they think contents, but which is not included under your house insurance
- Spare phone charger (which we keep in the main kit – we also have spare USB cords which we can charge our phones with via the car stereo. Another option could be a car charger for your phone)
- Copy of our most important contacts should the phones go bust
- Water purification tablets
If you have young children I would probably also keep handy a good book that helps explains things – for example the Quakey Cat, written by Diana Noonan in response to the Christchurch earthquakes (Scholastic also gives some helpful suggestions to help children process their emotions).
We also have a fireproof safe (available from most good security shops) hidden away in a safe place where we keep the following:
- Copies of favourite photos as well as photos of the property – from retaining walls to kitchen, bathroom, furniture and technology
- Marriage and birth certificates,
- Copy of most recent house valuation
- Our wills (if you don’t have one get one!)
- Something to help us remember what seems like a squillion passwords we have to have for everything we do online! Note don’t write down your passwords – only ever write code/key triggers that would help you remember them.
- A copy of the contents inventory list
- A copy of our most important contacts
End of the day I think that this is something that we have to accept will continue to happen and may even happen in a more catastrophic way; whether down south, up north in Auckland or even further afield you still have to be prepared. You can’t be complacent or assume you won’t be affected; while the Alpine fault is our most serious fault in NZ (with seismologists talking in recent weeks about its significant risks and its impact on the entire country), with Auckland, not only are you sitting on top of a whole heap of volcanoes, but if the Wellington fault went you are definitely going to feel it in a big way. Make no mistake, a big earthquake of magnitude 7 or more in the lower North Island will hurt your city – at best it may be only at a minimum, but at worse, it will be in a massive way: nationwide there is estimated to be about 15000 to 25000 “quake prone” buildings. This includes over 300 buildings that have a similar design flaw to that of the infamous CTV building. Out of this, 611 “quake risk” buildings are in Wellington, with only 3 buildings out of a potential 60 ‘CTVs’ being cleared, and over 400 buildings in Auckland, with only 47 buildings out of 193 potential ‘CTVs’ being cleared. That’s a lot of risk for harm and it is all very well building owners being given 20 years to get their buildings up to standard, and Geonet etc talking about the odds of this or that, but the reality is that no one truly knows squat for certain……bar the fact that natural disasters do not wait for us to get prepared!
No one in New Zealand can afford to be complacent, but that said we shouldn’t freak out either – if you are prepared then you will be safe and that is all that matters. Broken stuff can be rebuilt or replaced. Lives can’t.
So get prepared, keep safe and keep perspective…..New Zealand is by far always going to be the best place in the world for our families!