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Friday, March 4, 2011

Notes on an Earthquake

I pondered a lot before uploading my quake posts, as there's more than a little venting going on in them. They are what I wrote while there and part of the process, so I decided to post them regardless but will add some notes with the benefit of hindsight.

  • ALL of the people I dealt with, at Civil Defence and elsewhere, were doing their best in a bad situation. My frustration was not with any of them personally. However, having worked as a volunteer American Red Cross Emergency Services Caseworker and having been involved with the US military monster in other capacities, I understand what it means to be prepared for any eventuality. CD, at least what I saw of it in Diamond Harbor, was not. I created templates for information simply because none existed in the CD master book. 

  • I have also been harsh on the ivb and want to state that she seems a lovely woman but was unwilling to delegate and unable to make a decision and stick with it. In my view, once that became obvious, as it did, she should have been replaced by someone perhaps not as nice but more efficient. The help I saw offered was wonderful and many people came offering whatever they had - water, hot showers, food, accommodation, labor and equipment. Enabling them to help others is a large part of the recovery process and those people I enlisted to help me were grateful to have a job to do. Giving people a sense of control in a natural disaster, where there is such a sense of no control, is part of the healing process.

  • The NZ Navy was amazing. Lyttelton, the epicenter of the quake, was fortunate that the HMNZS Canterbury was docked there when the quake happened and the soldiers and sailors onboard helped  immediately. The navy (Canterbury was replaced by HMNZS Otago while she went to Wellington for supplies) also provided meals for residents of Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour. A community meal is a chance for the community to come together, talk about their experiences and connect with each other. It seemed to me, a trained observer, that some at the Diamond Harbour Civil Defence Sector Post were discouraging people from attending these meals. Proof, if that sounds harsh: I was asked to create and print a sign advising "Community Dinner Provided by NZ Navy at Church Hall 6 p.m." I watched it get taped to the hall door and it was removed within five minutes. I do not know who removed it. I also heard CD volunteers telling people who asked about the dinners that they were primarily for the elderly, ill or disadvantaged. The family next door to where I stayed, new arrivals to the community after the September quake damaged their Lyttelton home, were never informed by CD of the meals. 
  • The Diamond Harbour CD response had the feel, and this is a comment from a community member, but one I agree with, of a church hall meeting. If you were part of the group, you got the information. Examples:
  1. Shortly after I arrived on Wednesday evening, a lady who had just been at the sector post came to tell P (my friend and host) that the water reservoir was empty. I later went next door for other reasons and mentioned it to them. They did not know. The next morning, while at CD myself, I told the shift supervisor that people in the community were unaware the reservoir was empty. Her response: "They'll work it out." I explained that all the older houses had header tanks, as was required when they were built, so residents would not be aware of the urgency of water conservation. The supervisor was distracted by another matter she apparently thought more urgent than water conservation. 
  2. I offered to print fliers with contact information (physical address, phone, e-mail and website) and urgent advice (water, toileting, food, petrol, sewage) for distribution and asked who had the phone tree/neighborhood support information. Unfortunately, NS was in the process of an upgrade, which was merely bad timing. People offered to distribute fliers in their immediate community but offers were mostly rebuffed as it needed to go through proper channels. All good IF proper channels exist but they did not. Some people took it upon themselves to distribute information anyway, well done!
  3. Information was consciously withdrawn (i.e. toileting info) "just in case" it was wrong. In emergency response situations, decisions are needed. They may provide less than the optimum result but 95%, or even 80%, is better than zero.
  4. Well-established members of the community were well looked after, as I witnessed with the stream of calls and visits to my host, who has lived there for 57 years. Newer members (the neighbors) and visitors were overlooked. A neighborhood watch man did visit the neighbors on Friday afternoon, three days after the quake, he did not tell them a meal was available that night provided by the Navy, he did not visit the store (the owner said), an obvious communication point.
  • Last point. I can be forceful in trying to get things done and that is not the "Kiwi way." I know that upset some of those I abraded with while in DH and Lyttelton and am sorry, most of all, that they assumed ("accused" was the term the ferry driver used) I was a "loud American." I offer no apology for upsetting them and it was probably a great thing that they had someone physical to be angry at - anger is therapeutic. I do apologize to my American friends for (unintentionally) adding to the "ugly American" stereotype (but at least I didn't give Maori a bad name, hehe).

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