Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22 - One year on

I wasn't there, so I can't give a personal view of the actual Canterbury quake of February 22nd 2011. I have friends and family who lived through the quakes, and some came through it better than others, but the general concensus was that it sucked big time. I can't give justice to the enormity of it without having lived through it, so I'm not going to try. I'm sure there will be plenty of stories in the media about people's personal experiences.

For myself, this time last year I was attending an Emergency Management conference at the Amora Hotel in Wellington, along with many of the Emergency Management Officers from around the country. Many of the Canterbury Emergency Management staff were at the conference to present on their experiences of the September quake.

We had listened to a presentation from Dr Kelvin Berryman from GNS Science about the first quake. I vividly remember him saying that it was remarkable how well the majority of buildings in Christchurch had come through, but he wouldn't want to roll the dice again.

We'd just stepped out for lunch when phones started ringing just after 12:51, and then almost every phone in the room went off with a Geonet notification of a 6.3 quake right under Christchurch. There were hurried conversations and more phone calls, and people started leaving. The conference staff looked a bit sad as their entire conference walked out the door. Conferenz has very kindly rescheduled it for next week, now new and improved with even more lessons learned!

The Canterbury staff headed straight to the airport to get the first flight able to land at Christchurch Airport, and many of us headed straight to the National Crisis Management Centre under the Beehive - "The Bunker" was up and running, and fully staffed within about 30 minutes of the quake. I had worked there after the September quake, but had come in on about Day 3, this time I was there from the get go - at the turning on the computers and opening up a new incident file stage.

It was quite a different experience , but quickly settled into the routine of not having much idea what was going on in the world anywhere other than in Canterbury, and going left to the ladies room, when I should have gone right, or was it the other way round? The NCMC is arranged in a ring in the basement of the Beehive, so either way worked. Finding the exit after a night shift is the tricky part, despite it being well signposted.

There were some quite hard moments - many staff had friends or family in Canterbury, and it wasn't uncommon to find people taking a moment in a quiet space to deal with their emotions.

People in Canterbury all know where they were at 12:51 on Tuesday 22 February 2011 - my Facebook newsfeed is full of the oddest things my Christchurch friends remember about the morning before the quake, where they were at the time, and the things they did immediately after. For some (me too), the week after seems to be a bit of a blur, but the day itself was crystal clear.

Do you remember where you were that day, when you found out what had happened? You might have been at home, at work, out and about, at school. If you think back, if it had happened here, at that time, how would you have coped? Did you have a plan for how to get your family in contact and reunited? Did you have enough water and food and other survival items stored at home to help you through at least a few days?

And how about now, one year later? Now that you've had a chance to see just what a disaster of that scale can do to a city, what it does to people, and how people coped and helped each other, have you taken some steps to improve how prepared your family is?

We're interested in finding the most prepared family, business and school in Porirua, so tell us your story!