The Insurance Aftermath of an Earthquake


First there were several people who had inadequate insurance in Christchurch. I have no idea what the situation is in Japan, but I understand that some of the worst hit were apparently poor communities illustrated by the ease with which the  tsunami washed away the houses.

I think the first thing goes back to my previous blogs on preparation lessons, the aftermath and getting your household ready. The Earthquake Commission is there to help after a natural disaster which isn’t covered by normal household insurance. But the scope was huge. They had over 440,000 claims and even in dealing with those, their liability is up to a maximum of $100,000 for dwellings and $20,000 for personal property. Try building a house for $100,000 or replacing even your basic possessions including appliances, furniture, clothing etc for $20,000. Some people will pretty much walk away with nothing.

Now insurance itself is a risk game and they take our premiums on the expectation that for a large number of people they will never have to pay out. Now I haven’t seen the financials for EQC, but I suspect that most of the money has gone into running the organisation over  the years, especially given that after the event John Key says that the government may have to treble the levy in our taxes for future incidents. Does this mean that we are now going to start to pay for what happened, borrowing from the future because the funds weren’t there? Are wee robbing Peter to pay Paul?

We always knew a major disaster looming. Of course we thought it was most likely to happen in Wellington. It hasn’t, which of course doesn’t mean it won’t because Christchurch and Wellington are on different fault lines. But I would have thought with years and years of taxes and no major incidents, EQC would have been flush with funds.

Anyway, back to the present. If you don’t have adequate insurance to cover everything, think again and do what you can, even if money is tight, things could get a whole lot worse. I hate insurance. I was once asked to do a whole lot of psych tests by an insurance company who thought I would be a star life sales person. The idea of selling life policies to my friends was anathema but I loved tests, so I spent a whole day doing the tests and they came back apparently saying I would be hugely successful. I declined despite the offer of a big package. Today I wonder if I should have taken the money, because I better appreciate the importance of insurance. It’s a gamble by both parties, both hoping we will never be in a position to need the cover.

I have life, income protection, health, car, house and contents policies and it eats up a lot of money. So far the insurance companies have enjoyed a lot of meals from my table, but if something major did happen, I feel secure that if my company closed for 6 months because its buildings ceased to exist, if I was injured or ill long term, or if my house washed away in a tsunami, I could rebuild. As the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral said, its the people that matter, the church can be rebuilt.

One concern I had with the aftermath was seeing people throw away their household appliances, carpets, furniture etc and wondering how they would be able to prove what they had lost. The share scale meant that many people had to do that, but it does show the value of having a list of your possessions and also photos. I once had a software app that did that, but never fully used it. Another thing to my be prepared list methinks.

 

Household devastation after the earthquake

So I recommend you grab a digital camera or video camera at least, so that you can go through each room and record your possessions and the state of your property, so that you will have proof in the unlikely event that you could need it. Then store the information somewhere safe. I used to keep my songs in safe deposit on video, with the bank, some people thought I was stupid, but again its just insurance.

Enough for now. I hope I’ve given you some more food for thought. Here’s some fond memories of mine of Christchurch a couple of years ago, with a song I am still writing.

 

What About Your Community in an Earthquake?


How well do you know your neighbours? If you’re in a rural area, probably pretty well, but the suburbs these days are becoming more and more impersonal. Back in the day if you saw a neighbour doing some work in their back yard or putting in a driveway, you would put on some appropriate clothing and go and help them out.

Today many of us don’t even know their names. There are groups who set up neighbourhood watch programs to help reduce crime in the area. I’ve coordinated a couple of those over the years and I’ve even found that if you have neighbours who you think are a bit dodgy, they will often be there for you if they fee you are not looking down on them.

In a case of do unto others, even if you haven’t made contact before an emergency, when one starts is a great time to start. There were many cases in Christchurch where people contacted the media and message boards worrying about elderly or infirm relatives who lived in the area on their own and hadn’t been heard from. Many older people may not own mobile phones and without electricity they can’t be contacted.  The Red Cross were one of a number of organisations who helped with coordinating the location of missing people.  The military and S&R also looked for people, but often time is important especially if people are injured, so its a good idea to check on your neighbours once your own safety is assured.

Food is another issue. With no power, many perishables could go to waste. Some people will have more than others, some may have gas BBQ’s and can cook without power. In Christchurch many people got together and pooled their resources and in doing so got to know neighbours they had never met before.

Christchurch BBQ

There were many cases where people with phones were able to help those without, to let their friends and family know they were all right. When roads were unusable, there were people with bikes and motorbikes who were able to get out and help bring people back together.

I covered a lot of information in my previous blog about getting your own household in order many of which also apply to your community. Your neighbours are your community and by pooling resources and caring for each other, the burden will be much easier. This has been shown everywhere in an emergency. Now would be a great time to start before you need them to get an understanding of the dynamic, elderly people on their own, young families that may get split up and so on. Crises bring communities together and something good can come from them, even if it just psychologically knowing there is someone there if needed.

Disasters like the Christchurch earthquake, the Australian floods, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are devastating and tend to bring out the best in people, but by being a little more prepared, we can do even better. If you don’t have a list of who your neighbours are and their contact details, especially their mobiles, why not go next door now and introduce yourself. Even if there is no emergency, you can keep a friendly eye out for them and they will do the same for you.

Getting Your Household Ready for an Emergency


Christchurch City Council has a really good list of things to prepare in an emergency and if any area knows what to do, it’s them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and its a good idea to learn from someone else’s hindsight.

It seems obvious, but there is a lot more to it than you might think off hand.

Food. What happens if you can’t visit a grocer for a couple of weeks? What if there is no power? What if you have no water coming from the tap or it isn’t drinkable? If there is no power you can’t boil water. Do you have babies who need special foods? What about pets?

Cash. This was another major in Christchurch, no power, no comms, no EFTPOS. What happens when you need to rush to the store for last minute supplies? How much cash does anyone carry these days? Really obvious when its too late!

Gas for the BBQ is well worth it. Is your cylinder full? Lots of people will leave them over winter unless they also use the cylinder for other things, like a heater.

Medicine. If you can’t get to the doctor or the pharmacy and you use regular drugs, how long can you go without repeats or a new script? What state is your first aid kit in, what about regulars like paracetamol, bandages, antiseptics, slings? Do you have a St Johns or other first aid book? In many emergencies face masks would also be worth having around.

How many things do you have that need batteries? Torches, radio’s, emergency lights, many people only have battery powered can openers. How about your mobile phone, can you charge it if you have no electricity? A product like Cellshot might be worth investing in. Its great to see products like that available in NZ now. Of course candles and matches or lighters are also a must, something that non smokers may not have.

What about your camera? It struck me that it would have been a great idea in Australia with the floods if you could prove what you lost to the insurance companies before things got thrown out. A digital camera would make life much easier when it comes to rebuilding.

While I’m on mobile phones, I never thought about the fact that I couldn’t use my landline when there is no power. It’s well worth having an analogue phone in the house as they are powered by the exchange. Telecom did a great job in helping people donate their old phones to people in Christchurch. There’s a good business opportunity for someone to bring in new analogue phones for emergency back up.

Water is essential for so many things, cooking, drinking, washing, hygiene. Many disasters could mean that very quickly none of the water in your taps or house is usable. Some bottled water will keep for a year or more, but it also needs recycling or rotating.

Meetup plan. A number of friends in Christchurch had family members all over the city. It would be a great idea to have a plan on where to meet if people get separated, a public place, with common friends etc.

Getaway Kit. What if you had 5 or 10 minutes and had to leave in a hurry? What would you take with you? Lots of people have ended up with nothing in an emergency.

Do you have precious heirlooms? Special family items like photos, videos, jewellery etc that can’t be replaced? Do you keep them somewhere safe. Many of us have multilevel homes? If that’s you are those special things at ground level or up high? I have plastic bins that I bought from the Warehouse that stack and seal. They were only around $20 each and all my precious things like letters from grandparents etc are safely protected from the elements. Do you have your computer backed up? All those digital photos? where do you keep your backup?

The point is that these are all logical and simple things to do, but very easy to wish you had done once its too late.

The Aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquake: BAU?


So Christchurch had a devastating earthquake and of course the situation is going to take years to get back to a new form of normal. Some people have left, more will leave, some may go back one day. Some suburbs will cease to exist, or will perhaps become memorial parks because it is too risky to rebuild, both financially and from a human risk.

In recent blogs, I’ve wondered what we learned. I’ve been exploring some key areas and also thinking about human psychology and how not only do most of us think it will never happen to us, but we also tend to think it is someone else’s responsibility to do something about it.

So in the blogs to come, I want to look at a number of aspects of perhaps what should be done and who should take responsibility, because BAU or Business As Usual doesn’t seem a suitable answer. We all have immediate needs and there are things we can do to prepare at all levels, individual, family, local and regional government and much more.

Here’s what we know beyond any doubt. Natural disasters happen. They generally give minimal warning. In Japan they had 1 minute warning of the big earthquake and in some cases up to 30 minutes warning of the tsunamis.

New Zealand is on the ring of fire and has always had earthquakes. We rose out of the sea through earthquakes. Our magnificent mountains rose from the sea as the plates moved and squeezed them out. Maybe with a bit of help from Maui if you like.

Christchurch surprised some people and others though it was obvious with 20:20 hindsight. What we have also been told for years is that a big one will happen in Wellington. We have also been told that there is a very high likelihood that a new volcano will appear one day somewhere around greater Auckland. It could appear at sea, it could appear anywhere. Just have a look at the location of current volcanoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are made up of a number of islands in New Zealand. We love our beaches and coastline and many of us live within walking distance, or conversely within tsunami’s reach. We don’t believe it will ever happen to us, but then why have Civil Defence set up tsunami maps and early warning systems?

 

 

 

 

 

So this will be a series of blogs on what we can or should change. I will look at short and long term. I will look at what we as the public should do for ourselves, our families and our community. I will also look at segments such as insurance companies, Telecommunications providers, power companies, food businesses, manufacturers, distributors and retails, Civil Defence, oil companies, the education business, health, SME and Corporate Business, Town Planners, local and regional government, traffic planners (I’ll be at the IPENZ Conference this week) and more.

I’d like to start with a little survey and would love you to participate:

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.

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest

How far away is Peak Oil and what is it?


Lately there has been renewed interest in Peak Oil and while we are talking about Emissions Trading and allowing larger trucks on New Zealand Roads, the fact is that oil is running out.

What is peak oil? Wikipedia has an extended description, but in simple terms it is when the amount of oil being extracted is at the highest rate and from then on, the amount of oil becomes terminal. In other words, the amount of oil being extracted from the earth will be less than is being consumed, while demand, along with population, increases.

The Space Collaborative paints a scary picture of what the near future could look like without oil. Of course oil doesn’t just drive our cars, our ships, our planes, but it also helps to generate electricity.

Now of course for New Zealand it’s not a big deal because we have geothermal power and arrangements with countries like Japan to access oil, when it starts running out. Major gas guzzlers like the USA will gladly give us a share of their emergency stocks because we’re nice people.  We shouldn’t forget that we have more vehicles in New Zealand than we have licensed drivers.  Of course the price will sky rocket and you will need to be very wealthy to be able to run your car. Just as well we have natural gas.

It was interesting to read that Australia voted in November, not to put together a plan for peak oil, so we probably won’t find any help there.  New Zealand has been working on plans for a number of years, because in 2003 we were dependant on oil for 48% of our energy production. This means that brown outs as predicted in the diagram above, within the next 20 years could become a reality. Yet besides emissions trading, the Kyoto Protocol, which as I have blogged about before will require that instead of spending money to protect our own infrastructure will have us sending money to other countries who have lots of trees.

I don’t think we’re talking about science fiction here, where it will be a problem for future generations, long after we have turned to dust. I think this will be a problem that anyone reading this blog will face. So what are you going to do when you can’t get petrol or diesel for your car and there isn’t enough oil to generate electricity or even make candles?

It bears thinking about doesn’t it?