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Greater Honesty Needed Over The Country's State Of Preparedness - Council Watch

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

There has been the furious reporting at home and abroad on the most significant earthquake to strike New Zealand for 80 years, but the real truth of the situation is far more serious and has impacts for the entire country, and people desperately need a dose of reality.

We are truly a fortunate country. The size of California (or the United Kingdom +10%), with a population of 4.5 million; we have lots of space, lots of natural resource and a fairly low population density even in our major cities. The fact we have no bordering nations - and are as far away from strife as one could get on this planet before hitting Antartica - makes us somewhat divorced from the global conflicts and pressures other countries experience.

But what really makes this country so lucky is the utter lack of any major disaster since... well since the supervolvanic Oruanui eruption that formed Lake Taupo almost 27,000 years ago. As a colleague of mine once commented "We don't practice emergency management in New Zealand... we practice INCOVENIENCE management."

Christchurch's 7.1 (depth 10km) earthquake on Saturday September 4th is an inconvenience on a global scale, although obviously an emergency to the 400,000 people who live in our 2nd-largest city. For a start, nobody died. Not a soul. Even though the epicentre of the quake was less than 40km away from the centre of a city that has buildings made of brick and stone that date back to the 1850s. Water was restored quickly to the majority of the city, although boil-water notices remained in place in some areas to prevent gastric illnesses and some of the sewerage network is still down. Electricity was restored to 99% of households within a week.

In addition our Earthquake Commission covers the first $100,000 of insurance for damage to insured properties with insurance companies covering the rest. Our government announced a $350/week per

employee payout to affected businesses with less than 20 staff, donations are flooding from all over the country and we have turned down assistance from both the USA and United Nations.

You will forgive me brashly stating that - in comparison to disasters elsewhere - this has been a major inconvenience, but hardly a serious emergency.

My concern is that New Zealanders will continue to believe that we are lucky and blithely march into the future saying "we can deal with emergencies... just look at the great work we did in Christchurch". In my opinion apathy, ignorance and false hope are as dangerous as poverty, instability and lack of infrastructure when it comes to disaster preparedness.

There is a solution, but it is complex. Obviously we want our communities to take responsibility in a holistic fashion and reduce reliance on externally-provided services; become more self-sufficient. The will is

there however there's a psychological blockage caused by the very people who are tasked to make this happen.

Since the 1950s New Zealand has had a Civil Defence network. Ask any New Zealand citizen what Civil Defence is and you will get one of 4.5 million different answers. To some, CD is a great army awaiting the call to action. For others, it's a complex governmental organisation that reaches the length and breadth of the country.

In reality Civil Defence is nothing more than an idea, embedded in the minds of the citizenry, creating a false sense of security. It's a task reluctantly accepted by local government who treat it like any other Council function. Just like our water and sewage systems nobody takes any notice of it unless it stops working. But you cannot treat emergency preparedness in that way because it MUST work EVERY time it is

needed. This is the reason people don't realise how tenuous and fragile their situation is.

How can we break free of this fantasy? Like the main character in the movie The Matrix the only solution is for individuals to wake up and see the truth.

New Zealanders are vulnerable. Not only because of our small economy, our isolation, the fact we are sitting on a supervolcano at the edge of the Ring of Fire... we are vulnerable because we continue to believe in the Civil Defence Fairy and say "She'll be right".

She won't be right - ever - until citizens of this country take a reality pill. Only then will New Zealand communities and businesses start working toward true resilience.

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