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Are You A Tsunami Outrunning Champion?

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

How prepared are you for a disaster?

Having watched the news recently and seen the interesting behaviour of some of my compatriots heading towards the tsunami that might have hit the east and west coasts of New Zealand last weekend, I figured it was probably high time to review if a tsunami, earthquake or disaster struck, whether my chances of survival where relatively high or, like the self- decreed Tsunami Outrunning Champions, slim-to none.

Having little or no experience surviving anything worse than getting lost in the Hunua Ranges for a grand total of 45 minutes; I turned to Google to help me. 

It turns out if you type in “How to survive a disaster” under the New Zealand filter you get the website for the TV3 drama Aftershock as the top link, which at a guess lends one to believe people are at least mildly interested either in survival or television.

Apart from the slightly worrying poll question (“Is your house securely attached to its foundations?”) they have a good range of links from the Survive section, or if you want to see what other people are doing, look at the Polls section, where 8% of New Zealanders would grab their big screen tv as their one emergency item. Don’t worry, 55% of us would grab the kids.

You can also go to Have Your Say to take part in forum discussions, of which my personal favourite was:

Q: Wellington’s on a faultline zone. Could Auckland suffer from a massive earthquake?

A: One lives in hope.

If you’re looking for information on tsunamis GNS Science has a Tsunami FAQ page, which is very  useful.

The most useful part? “Trying to outrun a tsunami is not a recommended course of action.”


Q: Is a tsunami a dream come true for extreme surfers?

A: No.

(There was a slightly more expansive explanation after this, but really, what more do you need?)

It’s pleasing to see the Southland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group has found the time to update its website “There is no current state of Emergency” adorns the front page, which is helpful.

What’s more helpful is the fact sheets they have available for download.

 “How to Protect Your Health in an Emergency” is a comprehensive guide to, well, protecting your health in an emergency.

 According to the sheet, you need 3 litres of drinking water, per person, per day in an emergency, and need to replace any stored water every 12 months, which means anyone going with the “Y2K supplies will save me” strategy is doomed.

It also states to “make sure you know where to find camping equipment and materials to make shelters.” This was an eye opener from me as I will quite honestly have to go and fight every other apartment dweller down The Warehouse for camping supplies.

Prize for Weirdest But Strangely Reassuring Tip goes to the Volcanic Ash part of the report: “Vacuum ash up. DO NOT wipe as it will scratch surfaces.” These guys either really, really know what they’re doing, or someone learned that one the hard way.

The Auckland Civil Defence website has listed the radio stations to tune into and their frequencies, which is great. If you’re in the habit of visiting the website daily to see if we’re all about to expire before our time, you can also get a broad range of current event feeds from the NZ Herald to Stuff, as well as a weather forecast- if they put online shopping on there and a gig guide you’d never have to visit another site.

Weather aside, I was curious to find out where I should go if I was unable to hide under my duvet in my apartment in the event of an emergency.

What should in theory be a simple, easy-to-find answer in fact turned out to be a half hour search through several websites to find out that the Auckland City Council "does NOT publicise its Welfare Centres prior to an emergency.

Should Welfare Centres be required during an emergency, public broadcasts will be made via broadcast media informing people of their locations."

Which in theory is like saying you're not going to buy a smoke alarm until there’s a fire, but hey, that’s just my opinion. This is either a strategic ploy to ensure that only those that know how to work their transistor radios survive...or the Council haven’t got around to hitting up the St James to see if we can use their bathrooms if everything goes to hell.

What about supplies? There are several lists available as to what you need to have on hand, however, quite honestly, if there was a choice between running around trying to find everything needed and say, looting everything needed when the time came...maybe not, but point made.

There were a couple of entrepreneurs recently on Sunrise, who have come up with the Lifepac, on the premise that only 20% of New Zealanders are prepared for an emergency. They have several options of survival kits to purchase, from Office Kits to Family Pacs. They looked at costings for purchasing everything needed to survive separately, decided it was too expensive, and put together cost effective “pacs” that will allow you to survive for 72 hours...and they deliver to your door.

What about advance notice that things are about to get highly inconvenient?

Do we have adequate warning systems in place? GeoNet  “is a project to build and operate a modern geological hazard monitoring system in New Zealand. When complete, GeoNet will comprise a network of geophysical instruments, automated software applications and skilled staff to detect, analyse and respond to earthquakes, volcanic activity, large landslides, tsunami, and the slow deformation that precedes large earthquakes.” In short, GeoNet has all sorts of near-real time graphs and charts to look at, and if you really want to you can look at the webcams they have set up at several volcanoes, including Mt Ruapehu.

How do you measure potential damage? EQ-IQ has a large amount of information of what potential damage can happen in your home in an earthquakes (try this, you can “create your own earthquake”), and can indicate risk levels for tsunamis, landslips, volcanic eruptions, and gives warning signs for increased hydrothermal activity.

 Other “Be Prepared” sites include the in-a-disaster-would-you-get-through guy (or the Get Thru site). This has some How To Get Ready information and useful downloads...and you can follow them on Twitter.

There is also do1thing, which sends a free monthly email to subscribers breaking down getting ready for a disaster into 12 monthly steps.  The email is pretty involved, and you can post a link to your Facebook page to either guilt your friends into getting prepared or show off how much of a girl or boy scout you are...which I did, despite not being prepared or a girl scout.

Last but not least- what if you or the people you are with get hurt? This is relatively likely in the event of a disaster- if you’re really looking to be over prepared and/or be able to lend a hand, St John offers first aid courses- they’re usually a two day event, and from my own experience well worth going to.

So, I don’t own a tarpaulin, a radio or a whistle; my tinned food consists of peaches and one can of Watties Condensed Vegetable Soup (“Try me in Chicken and Vegetable Pie” version).

I do have a flashlight (no batteries) and a few candles (apple scented) and a lighter that goes if you use alternating flattery and threats.

I couldn’t tell you the radio station to listen to if disaser strikes or where my nearest civil defence centre is. I wouldn’t know how the Civil Defence alert siren sounds like or even how I’m going to contact my family if Telecom and Vodaphone go down (and let’s face it, Telecom customers are pretty screwed.)

No, I am not prepared for an emergency, but thanks to the numerous and comprehensive efforts of various individuals and organisations that appear to care whether or not I run towards the disaster or away from it, I’ve got no one to blame but myself.

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