Earthquake Preparation – a random selection of things learned in Christchurch 2010-11.

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The shoes in which I wore the soles out when walking home through liquefaction and broken streets on February 22, 2011.

I’ve heard that some Cantabrians are telling Wellingtonians to “toughen up”, but my heart goes out to all the people in central NZ affected by the latest spate of earthquakes – so much so I figured it was time to write down some things which may make the situation a little easier, should you need it, which I sincerely hope that you do not.

Being prepared can in no way fully insure you against earthquakes, and I’m very thankful that fate has been kind to me through all the Christchurch ones, and the worst that happened was that I lost power and water for a few days, a job that I loved, and too many friends to distant places. Hence, I feel a stab of survivor guilt every time I hear a new horror story of tragedy, extreme discomfort, or ongoing insurance woes. However, as everyone who’s been through it knows, the effects of a natural disaster are not just about the moment it hits, and that is something you can be prepared for.

Thanks to a niggling feeling that started at the beginning of 2010, I admit I was better prepared than most, and began justifying my wine intake by filling up the empties with water and storing them in boxes in the shed. Having formerly lived in a van, I also have a lot of camping gear, and at some point in mid 2010 rearranged the shed so that all the water and emergency equipment was both protected and easy to get to. Yet when September hit, I was still not as ready as I could’ve been, and with each successive major quake have learned something either from my own experiences or those of others. So in addition to the standard emergency advice, and investing in low, sturdy furniture, here are some suggestions that may help you feel that you have some control over how you get through it.

September, 2010:

Bed

  • Lying in bed prior to a quake and imagining the safest place to go should a big one hit is really useful at the moment that a big one hits because even if every other organ in your body is trying to turn itself inside out, your brain will go into automatic mode.
  • Rolling off the bed onto the wooden floor and then pulling futon over head will be much more comfortable if you also roll yourself in the duvet.
  • Those who sleep in the nud might like to consider the benefits of pyjamas.
  • Leaving all your daytime clothes, including your shoes, in a bundle beside your bed is not messy, but sensible.
  • Having a radio and torch (that actually work) beside your safe place would also be sensible.
  • If you have kids, put the youngest in the bedroom closest to yours.

Phones

  • Owning a landline that requires no electricity means that you have contact with the outside world – no phone-call in my life will mean as much as my best friend’s on that cold, pitch-black morning.
  • Even when there’s cell coverage, cell-phones only work if there is credit on the phone and it is fully charged (consider investing in an alternative charger such as car, solar, or wind-up).
  • Having cash on hand means you can get a phone credit (or anything else) from a dairy operating with no power or eftpos (cash is king when the lines are down).

February, 2011

Getting Home

  • When it’s stopped and you leave the building ignore all the advice you’ve ever had to leave your belongings, and if they’re in reach grab your bag and jacket. I was lucky to be let back in to get mine, but a lot of people were left without their essentials at the most vulnerable time of their lives. I now make a habit of keeping my bag close by at all times.
  • Pre-Googling a walking map to get you home should you be at work when a quake hits is a really great idea, but also consider a route that avoids bridges.
  • Walking is far quicker than driving, and from the look of all the panicked faces of people stuck in traffic that day, also less stressful. You can always go back when it’s calmed down to get your car.
  • Heels are not ideal. Wearing flat shoes and jeans to work that day was more luck than preparedness, but if you do wear heels consider keeping walking boots at work and in the car.
  • Consider keeping a back pack with water, scroggin, first aid, and comfy clothes and boots under your desk or in your vehicle.
  • If you have kids, do what the adverts say and have a plan. Schools will have rules about who they can go home with, but consider asking friends who live nearby if they can drop into the school with food and blankets and check that they’re okay.

Home

  • If you can, make a kitchen and living area outdoors, and pick the safest room with good outside access as a family sleeping room.
  • Keep the freezer closed and wrap duvets around it to keep it cold for as long as possible.
  • Remove any breakable or heavy items from high shelves or at least string elastic up, and pack preserves tightly into crates and store on floors (it’s a really good idea to do this anyway).
  • Wooden rulers or sticks can be put through handles to stop cupboard doors from swinging open.
  • Stabilise book shelves by placing heaviest books at bottom and wedging everything in tightly.
  • Remove anything that could fall across and block doorways.
  • Solar showers are great for heating water for dishes.
  • Rain water collection can be used for washing etc.
  • Having enough water, gas and food to look after your neighbours will also ensure that the wine and chocolate gets delivered to you.

Roads

  • Don’t drive anywhere unless you have to – leave the roads free for the emergency and service vehicles.
  • If you have to evacuate or drive anywhere in the days after try to do it in daylight, and have a co-pilot to look out for hazards.
  • Bikes offer far more accessibility when half the roads in your neighbourhood are munted.
  • Don’t be a dick. If you live in an area that is not badly affected, don’t drive to somewhere that is. People trying to clean up get majorly peeved (and that is a euphemism) at rubber-neckers dawdling through their streets with their cameras. If you do, you will get abused, and risk having liquefaction – or worse – thrown at your car.

Toilets

  • Get down with the Portaloo – it sure beats some of the alternatives.
  • If you have to dig a hole, consider a trench, as the anaerobic activity happens closer to the surface.
  • The chemicals that come with a chemical toilet are so vomit and headache-inducing that you may wish to consider composting alternatives.
  • A Bokashi kit makes a great emergency toilet, and once it has done its thing for a couple of months, you can bury it or feed it to your worms or compost.
  • An old dining chair with a removable seat makes the Bokashi bucket way more comfy.
  • Composting toilets are also far more pleasant to deal with in your back yard than carrying a heavy chemical toilet down the road to empty into a shoulder-height plastic bucket that says “beware of splashback” – otherwise known as the ‘walk of shame’.

June, 2011

  • If your work gets closed, and you live on the other side of town, going to the pub until the roads clear may not be such a good idea. Neither is sitting in a glass atrium, so that when a bigger quake hits an hour later you find yourself under a very small table with your workmates.
  • Having a gas heater makes a good alternative heating source when the power is down, and chimneys are MIA.
  • Have plenty of hot water bottles, the water to fill them, and the means to heat it.
  • Have tarpaulins and buckets on hand in case it rains or snows.

December, 2011

  • Even when you think you have gotten used to them, a good shake can still make your vital organs turn inside out.
  • If you must go to a mall, leave the car at home or park on the streets and not in a covered car park (fortunately, this is something I only witnessed via TV).
  • Earthquakes don’t care about Christmas, or any other human invention, and because of that you may find yourself swearing and shaking your fist at them simply because it makes you feel better. And that’s okay.
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