Be Prepared for a Disaster

This week, with the second anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake approaching, I’ll be blogging about several issues relevant to our situation here in Christchurch and natural disasters in general.

Once the shaking from the largest earthquake to strike Christchurch and Canterbury in the last 100 years (if not longer) stopped, I’m sure there were a great many people thinking the worst.  Of course, if you were woken up at 4:35 AM by your house sounding like it was going to bust into a million pieces within seconds and you could barely move for nearly a minute, your adrenaline would be pumping and you’d wonder if the rapture had come and gone and you were left behind.  Nothing can ever prepare you for when a natural disaster strikes, especially if it’s a relatively unannounced one like an earthquake.

As I said in a previous blog, I felt something was coming.  To me, it felt like a dark cloud on the horizon.  Even before Noel and I left to America, sitting in Jacqui and James’s living room, both he and I said that something bad would happen while we were away.  We weren’t sure if it was that our dog Jenah was going to pass away, or if Noel’s mum would get sick… But in an earlier conversation with Jacqui at work, I confided in her that I felt the overwhelming need to stockpile canned / non-perishable food and bottled water.  Even before we left, I bought a whole bunch of each.  It made me think natural disaster.

Noel and I were somewhat lucky; we weren’t in Christchurch when the 7.1 earthquake tore across the Canterbury plains and shook the region awake at 4:35 AM on 4 September 2010.  I’d left my cell phone at my parents’ place in Mount Prospect while we all went out to lunch, thinking that no one would call me at that hour of the morning (New Zealand time), to come home to find several missed calls from Jacqui, James, and Don.  Knowing something strange was going on, I called Jacqui back, and, with her voice trembling, all she could say was, “There’s been a big earthquake.”

In shock, the words, “Are you all okay?” came first, then “How are our houses?” and “Would you mind checking on the cats?” followed.  One of the things I urged Jacqui and James to do was to use the canned food and bottled water at our place if they needed it.  Maybe it was a deeper part of me wanting to protect them that I had stocked up; I don’t know.

Even when we got back, and the authorities were a little vague on whether or not they thought another large aftershock was coming, I started to stock up on bottled water and other supplies, just in case.  Earthquakes are not like tornadoes or forest fires; after the main shock, you may have another, larger shock, and even if you don’t, you face months if not years of smaller earthquakes.

We bought LED flashlights to keep on our bedside tables.  Clothes were laid out on the floor at night for easy access.  Items were secured wherever and whenever we could around the house.  Hazards were assessed and mitigated, if possible.

And then the 22 February 2011 quake hit, and the nightmare began.

We were lucky; we had intermittent phones, internet, power, and water / sewage (we were pretty sure).  Authorities told us to stay away from our water unless we boiled it, and not to flush our toilets or take showers.  Others didn’t even have a stable house or power.  It’s a very scary, vulnerable, and dangerous place to be.

We keep hearing these messages on being prepared, but how often do we heed those messages?  Sure, in Christchurch, many organisations came to help us out, and neighbours even looked out for one another for the most part, but what about more remote areas?  Countries in the world that aren’t so charitable?  We keep being warned not to expect anyone to help in the immediate aftermath… How many of us didn’t listen?

In New Zealand, we have Civil Defence.  They have been telling us for years what to have ready in case of a natural disaster, because, according to them, it could be up to 3 days or more before anyone could reach us or help us, and we’ll have to be self-sufficient on our own.

Thanks to Civil Defence, here’s some handy tips you should follow to be prepared for any type of natural disaster:

  1. Learn about the different natural disasters out there, especially those which could potentially threaten your neighbourhood, and what to do if one of these disasters should strike where you live.
  2. Figure out how you and your family or household would respond to the disaster and its aftermath.
  3. Put together and keep refreshing an emergency survival kit.
  4. Prepare important documents, clothes, and other items in case you need to leave your house or neighbourhood quickly.

If you’d like more information on each of these steps, please visit “How to Get Ready” on the Get Thru Web site.  As a matter of fact, the entire site is extremely helpful.

Some of the most important things I’d like to share with you all is:

  1. Make sure you have enough food you can readily prepare and bottled water to survive for several days on your own.  You should ensure you have enough for each person and pet in your household plus some spare, just in case.
  2. Have more than one escape route from your house, and make sure you keep each of these clear of hazards so you can leave the house quickly if you need to.  If you live in an apartment or condo, know several exits to escape through.  As they say in the airplane safety briefings, sometimes an exit may be in a not-so-apparent place.
  3. Keep your vital documents in an easily-accessible place.  If you had a minute to evacuate your house, could you do it with grabbing passports, birth certificates, et cetera?
  4. Ensure the gas tank on your car is always half full at least.  Also know how to escape your neighbourhood, if you need to, on foot.
  5. Always have fresh batteries in your flashlights, matches easily available, and either charcoal or full gas bottles for your BBQ if you need to cook.  Also, if you have a fireplace, have fresh firewood available too.
  6. Keep your cellphones charged.  Never let them wind down if you can.
  7. Learn first aid.  Be competent in it, and have a first aid kit or two in your house and car.
  8. Be friendly with your neighbours.  You may need to pool resources and rely on one another in a natural disaster or emergency.
  9. Have a plan.  Whether you need to evacuate the house, or if you are at work while your partner is at home while your kids are at school and you need a common place to meet, know what you will do in an emergency or natural disaster.
  10. Be aware of hazards.  If there’s an earthquake, power lines overhead could be a threat.  So could the gas line in your front yard.  Think about these hazards and prepare to act in worst case scenarios.
  11. Knowledge is power.  Learn all you can so you can be prepared as best as you can be in case of a natural disaster.

While I hope most people I know never have to experience a natural disaster, the stark reality is that we often do not know when and where one will strike.  So, the next best thing is to be prepared.

If you’d like more information on how to Get Thru, visit www.getthru.govt.nz or search Google for your local civil defence authority for further advice.

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