Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch


It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.