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.

The Zimbabwe Election Result


Is it just me? Why is it that when there is a perversion of democracy in some countries, the US and other nations march in and take over to protect the people, for example Iraq, and in other cases such as Zimbabwe, nothing is going to happen until it is a total disaster. In my blog last month, I was largely focussing on the technology angle, where people were using technology such as SMS to get information out of the country. The exercise raised my awareness of the problems over there and this morning a story in the NZ Herald told of a South African Jounalist who was arrested and spent 3 days in jail for being in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

I was pleased to see that Condoleezza Rice came out on Friday criticising South Africa for not taking a more positive stand and it is fair that they should start looking there. Could it be that ZA is taking a soft position because the black people have thrown the white people out? I did see on TV recently that there were many black refugees who had crossed the border and were biding their time in South Africa hoping that eventually the tide would turn and it would once again be safe to return to their homes, or what is left of them.

Of course my bent is on technology and oe of the things I love about the modern Internet environment is that it makes it very difficult to totally censor information. There are countless ways to get information out of a country despite political interference. In the old days journalists had to smuggle film and other documents over the border at great personal risk. Today there are mobile phones, satellite phones and many other ways of getting information out.

There are also great ways to use technology to show information and one of these is the Google Mash Up. The Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group have devised a web site which shows information spatially information about ‘election conditions’ where you can see the sites of incidents and through pop up windows read information about them. Even for someone who has never been there, this gives a much more real perspective of what is happening over there.

There are also countless blogs coming out of the country, giving details from organisations as well as heart wrenching diaries from individuals.

SMS continues to play a major part and a recent article in CIO Magazine shows an innovative way that an SMS Hib has been used to not only help share information with the people through subscription phone lists, but also to help promote democracy and political participation by encouraging people to say what they would like the country to be like after the election.

Something that also stands out in the human psyche of oppressed people is their ability to laugh and joke about their position. I think this performs a number of functions, one it is a passive form of protest, but it is also a coping mechanism. It appears that SMS is frequently used in Zimbabwe to share these jokes. An example is a text message passed from one person to the next like:

“We would like to apologise to the nation for the late release of the presidential results. This is due to the rigging process, which is proving to be more difficult that we had anticipated.”

This interesting concept is explored by Mobile Active a global network focussed on the use of mobile technology for positive purposes.

The mobile phone continues to have an amazing impact on society that was never envisaged when it was first developed as a business tool. They are enabling knowledge sharing in ways that are providing freedom of expression and information sharing and making the world a much smaller place. There was a time that people could enforce their wishes on minorities in less developed countries with impunity and noone would be any the wiser. Today it is all but impossible to censor people and something uttered from a hidden room in Harare can be heard all over the world microseconds later. If only we could get the powers who profess to support democracy and freedom for all people, regardless of race, creed or gender, to act before any more innocent people are injured and killed and people’s lives and livelihoods are destroyed forever.

Why were there so many accidents in New Zealand last week?


This month to date there have been around 32 road deaths in New Zealand compared to 15 at the same time last year. The crazy thing is that the weather has been awesome. Unlike right now as I write this blog, and it is blowing a gale with a little precipitation, it has been warm, dry and perfect driving weather.

Last week I drove to Hamilton during the day on business. I passed 4 major accidents over a period of 3 hours and saw lines of congestion that averaged 2-3km of stationery traffic during a normally quiet time of day.

If you are reading this in the US, you might consider 32 road deaths as a pittance, but consider for a moment that there are less people in the whole of New Zealand than there are in many US cities. Most cars are relatvely new and feature power stearing and at the least anti-skid break technology, so there is no reason for multiple car collissions in these nice weather conditions. Our maximum legal speeds on our freeways is a mere 100 kmph and most people drive close to that.

I haven’t seen any statistics yet, but I am sure that the coroners will back up my theory. I suspect that a large number of people were in the process of text messaging and not paying attention to the road and other cars. Every time I drive I see literally dozens of people with one hand and eye on the road and the other on their phone. It’s a national disease. There is discusison about devices such as car navigation being a dangerous driver distraction, but as a seasoned user, I rarely look at my device when I am driving, I listen to the instructions. SMS is much more dangerous and distracting.

I don’t know what the usage statistics for SMS are in NZ, but with accounts allowing 2,000 free messages a month and services such as the ability for consumers to send a message to up to 15 recipients at a time, the numbers are mind boggling.

So my theory as to why so many people crashed and some of the 32 people who needlessly lost their lives on our road so far this month, is that they were sending or receiving text / SMS messages.

Seems funny now to think of the coroner in London in 1890 something who said that never again must any person die from a motor vehicle accident (that was when the guy walking in front of the car with the safety flag was killed by the very car he was protecting pedestrians from).

Surely no message is worth dieing for?