Quakey safety

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!

Sheer chaos post Friday 16th earthquakes. Source Felix Marwick via Newstalk ZB

Sheer chaos post Friday 16th earthquakes. Source Felix Marwick via Newstalk ZB

Gridlock like we have never seen as everyone rushes to get home. Source: Stuff

Gridlock like we have never seen as everyone rushes to get home. Source: Stuff

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:


         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.


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.

4 person survival kit/getaway bag as offered by Lifepac if you need help to get the basics together. Note this should not be your main kit in the home!

4 person survival kit/getaway bag as offered by Lifepac if you need help to get the basics together. Note this should not be your main kit in the home!

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).

Quakey Cat by Diana Noonan. Image source: Skylight Trust (Non profit that helps children deal with grief)

Quakey Cat by Diana Noonan. Image source: Skylight Trust (Non profit that helps children deal with grief)

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
  • Passports
  • 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!

David Bain – the case for compensation

Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake…for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

~ Genesis 18:23-32 (NIV)

David Bain is one of those highly contentious cases where, after 19 long years of debate, speculation and gossip everyone has an opinion essentially set in stone. There is simply no chance anyone will change their mind no matter which side of the fence they sit. And this is despite the new (old) evidence revealed on TV3’s 3rd Degree show last week.

And I am not about to even try to and change anyone’s mind; to me it is irrelevant. The final verdict was reached and that is that.

But what I would like people to consider is whether the case for compensation is actually based on the values that the law is meant to protect and uphold.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act stipulates in its Minimal Standards of Criminal Procedure, amongst other things, that we have the right to:

  1. A fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court
  2. The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law

Where there has been a wrongful conviction and imprisonment, the Ministry of Justice states “there is no legal right to compensation”, but can, at its discretion, make an ex-gratia payment where that person was:

  1. Imprisoned following a wrongful conviction that is subsequently set aside
  2. At a minimum, innocent on the balance of probabilities

It seems that everyone has appointed themselves as judge and jury on the David Bain case, including Minister of Justice Judith Collins who apparently thought it was OK to compile a 34-point list of what she didn’t like about the findings of former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie – in particular, that David was most probably innocent. A judge who incidentally, was appointed by the former Minister of Justice Simon Power – a man who appears to be held in little regard by some of Judith Collins’ more high profile supporters, the same supporters who seem to be absolute in their view that David Bain is guilty.

As a result I wonder whether David’s compensation claim has become one about being “presumed innocent until proved guilty [beyond reasonable doubt] according to the lawversus whether one is “innocent on the balance of probabilities”. It almost seems like these two tests are somehow mutually exclusive and/or, perhaps even contradictory.

My understanding is that the compensation test is a lesser standard than that required to prove someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Yet QC Robert Fisher, who was asked in what appears to be a backhanded fashion by Collins (whose actions appeared to indicate bias so are now being questioned), to peer review Justice Binnie’s findings, has declared unequivocally, absolutely and without a doubt that Justice Binnie’s final conclusion David was innocent on the balance of probabilities, was incorrect. He was just plain wrong and ole Judith sang this from the rooftops to all and sundry. As did her supporters.

If Fisher’s analysis is correct then how does this conclusion NOT contradict the NZ Bill of Rights that one is “presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law”? What is the statutory interpretation around this presumption of innocence until proven otherwise? The Ministry of Justice offers some further insight:

“The rule ordinarily requires that: (1) the burden of proving guilt rests with the state; (2) guilt should be proved beyond reasonable doubt and (3) the matter to be proved is guilt, which means that the offence should not ordinarily cover conduct that involves no moral fault.”

But what does this mean? What is the intent of the law? Is it based on Blackstone’s formulation – that it is better 10 guilty go free than 1 innocent get convicted? Or is it that people are only genuinely innocent if the police think they are, that once charged one is not genuinely innocent as they are already tainted with guilt?

A not guilty verdict means a presumably innocent person was not found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Doesn’t this mean that the jury has essentially concluded, based on evidence submitted under oath, that the probability of the person being innocent was higher than the probability of them being guilty? Which means that if David was presumed to be innocent before the 2009 trial (which he should have been – after all, doesn’t the Privy Council ruling make the 1995 conviction null and void?), then surely his not guilty verdict means he still presumed innocent, that his verdict resultant from a much tougher test meets the much lesser test stipulated by the Ministry of Justice?

For me this is not about whether the final verdict was right, this is about protecting all of us if we ever have the awful misfortune of being accused then imprisoned for something we didn’t do.

Take the case of say, a husband falsely accused then wrongly convicted and imprisoned for raping his wife. If a re-trial found him not guilty I would suspect that, according to the MOJ’s standard, he would struggle to prove his innocence on the balance of probabilities; his semen would most likely always be the thing that caused doubt. Even more so if say she was the really nasty manipulative type and made it look like he had physically assaulted her. His DNA would be all over it. Likewise with David Bain – it seemed like everyone in the family had used the gun, David and his mother seemed to have similar optometrist prescriptions and being a low income household chances are the men shared each other’s clothes…..no this is not an invitation to start dissecting the evidence!!! The point being is that just like a husband and wife, family relationships are dynamic, complicated and often very intertwined, so I think that this needs to be taken into consideration when one considers denying someone who, by all accounts was wrongfully convicted, compensation for the 13 years spent in jail. 13 years of confinement where life and all its glory – success, failure, love, heartbreak and opportunities were lost. Potentially stolen. It is a huge call to deny someone compensation in these circumstances as frankly, unless the police and justice system prove to us that they are absolutely beyond disrepute then any of us could easily be faced with being accused with doing something we didn’t do.

So the main problems I have with Judith Collins potentially denying this compensation claim is that, aside from the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ appearing to overwhelmingly be in David Bain’s favour (which means it could be political suicide for her and perhaps the government), it would just go against the whole point of even having a justice system. It could mean that a verdict can be undermined by what is essentially a discretionary decision dependant entirely on whoever is the Minister at the time, and further, that ones right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty isn’t really that innocent at all. The second key point of contention for me is (and the one that is probably going to be the most relevant): but for the “substantial” miscarriage of justice (as declared by the Privy Council in 2007) resultant primarily from a sloppy police investigation 19 years ago, David would never have been convicted.

Irrespective of ones views pertaining to David’s supposed guilt or innocence, the evidence in this case was simply not there (for a whole host of reasons that don’t need to be addressed here) to prove he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt; the burden of proof was – as it should be – with the Crown and when they finally put their “best evidence forward”, as stated by Assistant Police Commissioner Malcolm Burgess, they failed. Miserably. In my view the 2009 verdict showed that our justice system could still stand up to scrutiny. It reached the conclusion that should have been met in that first trial in 1995: not only was the jury anything but impartial (I was in Dunedin at the time – EVERYONE was talking about it!) – as is meant to be guaranteed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the evidence was just simply not there to warrant a conviction of guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

So the question is if Collins denies this claim then what does this say about the values that underline our legal system? The values it is meant to protect and uphold? Is it OK that a discretionary decision can potentially undermine a verdict reached by our courts? That the 1 innocent person taken into consideration by Sir William Blackstone in 1765 may have to just be happy they got out of prison when they did?

Or am I just off on a wild goose chase here?

Disclaimer: I am not personally associated with the Bain case.


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