Targeting earthquake risk

May 11, 2015

Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith announced a targeted approach to building regulations for earthquake safety at the National Party’s Mainland conference yesterday:

“The priority in developing this earthquake strengthening policy for buildings is public safety and minimising future fatalities. We also need to ensure the response is proportionate to the risk, that the costs are minimised and that we retain as much of our built heritage as possible,” Dr Smith says.

The four significant changes to the policy are:

  • Varying the timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk
  • Prioritising education and emergency buildings for strengthening
  • Reducing the number of buildings requiring assessment; and
  • Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades.

“The timeframe for identification and assessment of five years and strengthening of 15 years is to be varied relative to seismic risk. The return period for a significant earthquake (MM8) ranges from 120 years in Wellington, to 720 years in Christchurch, to 1700 years in Dunedin, and only once every 7400 years in Auckland. New Zealand is to be categorised into low, medium and high seismic risk zones with timeframes for assessment of five, 10 and 15 years and strengthening of 15, 25 and 35 years,” Dr Smith says.

“Education and emergency buildings will be targeted by requiring that in high and medium seismic risk areas they be identified and strengthened in half the standard time. We are prioritising all education buildings regularly occupied by 20 people or more. We also want to ensure buildings like hospitals can maintain services in the aftermath of a significant earthquake.

“The scope of buildings requiring assessment is to be reduced from an estimated 500,000 to 30,000. We are excluding farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments, wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks. The new methodology for identifying earthquake-prone buildings will ensure the focus is on older buildings like unreinforced masonry that pose the greatest risk.

“Building owners are to be encouraged to upgrade their buildings ahead of the allowable timeframe by establishing a web based public register and requiring notices on such buildings highlighting the level of risk. There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.”

The Government also confirmed that the earthquake-prone building definition as being less than 34 per cent of the new building standard (NBS), a 10-year extension for listed heritage buildings, and exemptions from strengthening for low risk, low occupancy buildings, would remain in the policy.

“The effect of these policy changes is that buildings like schools, universities and hospitals in high and medium seismic risk areas will have to be upgraded more quickly, but buildings in low risk areas like Auckland and Dunedin more gradually. This more targeted approach reduces the estimated cost from $1360 million to $777 million while retaining the safety gains. The policy will result in an estimated 330 fewer deaths and 360 fewer serious injuries from earthquakes over the next century,” Dr Smith says.

“The select committee is considering the Bill and will be reporting back to Parliament in July with passage later this year. We will also be consulting on the detailed regulations like the assessment methodology, the Earthquake-Prone Buildings Register, the building notice requirements and the definition of substantial alterations.

“There are no easy answers to the seismic risk posed by thousands of older buildings in New Zealand. We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading. This is the most comprehensive policy of any seismically active country for dealing with older buildings and strikes the right balance between safety, cost, heritage and practicality.”

The Minister’s full speech is here.

The schedule of the revised timetable by location is here.

A map of the new zones is here.

This policy is pragmatic and practical and has been greeted positively.

The Construction Strategy Group says it is realistic:

The targeted risk-based policy adopted by the Government toward strengthening of earthquake-prone buildings appears realistic for the circumstances with which the country is dealing says the Construction Strategy Group (CSG).

Chairman of the CSG, Geoff Hunt, said today that in adopting a measured position reflective of the realities that earthquake risk in New Zealand varies significantly between regions the Government was taking a realistic approach.

“A policy which puts aside more onerous and unreasonable requirements for upgrading commercial structures in low risk regions, and disposes of top level upgrades for little-used farm sheds and such buildings as isolated rural country churches, is practical and sensible,” he says.

“The CSG has long advocated a policy that takes account of risk factors. It is supportive of the intention to set a ‘must upgrade’ base line of 34 percent of today’s new building standard. The new time frames for upgrading earthquake-prone structures are also helpful in bringing cost factors into line with affordability.

“The regional categorisation of regions into low, medium and high risk zones will allow local government to take a realistic policy approach.

“The openness to public scrutiny of a building’s earthquake resistance status is also helpful to public safety. It will also ensure constant pressure on building owners with at risk buildings to have them brought up to speed sooner rather than later.

“Priority focus on upgrading the 30,000 most at risk buildings and on upgrading schools and hospitals is a matter of necessity.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the move was positive:

He said strengthening must still go ahead, but he was pleased Dr Smith had listened to the concerns of southern councils which had lobbied him ”intensively” for two years for change.

”To his credit, he’s listened to those concerns and yes, he will [now] adjust according to [earthquake] risk,” Mr Cull said when contacted last night.

Mr Cull said the ”one size fits all” edict had been detrimental to the lower South Island because of the large number of older buildings.

”Basically, it would have been uneconomic to fix [earthquake proof] them and a lot would have had to be demolished,” Mr Cull said.

The first policy proposed for earthquake safety measures took no account of risk.

Owners of historic buildings in low risk areas like Oamaru and Dunedin would have been forced to demolish their buildings because they would not have been able to do meet the proposed standard in the proposed time.

This policy takes a much more balanced approach based on risk.

It doesn’t mean that earthquakes won’t strike low risk areas nor that a quake won’t kill people.

The Minister rightly says We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading.

This policy balances risk and cost.


Quote of the day

April 28, 2015

We still carry this old caveman-imprint idea that we’re small, nature’s big, and it’s everything we can manage to hang on and survive. When big geophysical events happen – a huge earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption – we’re reminded of that.James Balog


Perspective

July 22, 2013

Three years ago the news of a large earthquake in the top of the South and lower North Islands would have been even bigger news three years ago.

But the September 2010 and February 2011 and the thousands of others which followed them have changed our perspective.

Fortunately there have been no reported deaths or major injuries from last evening’s one and the smaller ones which preceded it.

Without in any way dismissing the fear and anguish of those who went through it and are still dealing with the aftershocks, especially people whose homes were damaged, and the hassles associated with trains not running and buildings which can’t be accessed, this was an upset, not a disaster.

Let’s hope it stays that way.


Drop, cover and hold

June 9, 2012

People in Christchurch know the drop, cover and hold drill and it is important that the rest of us do too.

That’s the motivation behind the Great New Zealand Shakeout – the country’s largest ever earthquake drill which is being held at 9:26am on September 26 (9:26 on 26.9).

Why bother?

While earthquake hazard varies from region to region (see below), all of New Zealand is prone to earthquakes.  You could be anywhere when an earthquake strikes – at home, at work, at school or on holiday. 

New Zealand ShakeOut has been created to help people and organisations get better prepared for major earthquakes, and practice how to be protected when they happen.  Everyone will practice “Drop, Cover and Hold”—the right action to take in an earthquake.

New Zealand ShakeOut also provides a fantastic opportunity for organisations and businesses to examine and review their own emergency preparedness arrangements.  Families and households can create, review and practice their household plans.

Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain says that more than 100,000 people have already registered to participate.

It’s easy to think it won’t happen here, but that’s what Canterbury people would have thought before the September 2010 earthquake. That and the thousands that have followed are proof it could happen anywhere and we all ought to know how to protect ourselves and those around us.

We’ve had all-too regular reminders that these are the shaky isles and we need to be prepared for the shaking wherever and whenever it happens.


Chch needs southern support

January 11, 2012

Quote of the day:

“It’s distressing enough for people in Christchurch to have to go through the difficulties that the earthquake events continue to present, without actually scaring them completely by suggesting that they’re going to have to relocate to Dunedin.”

It comes from Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee in response to Dunedin City Councillor Lee Vandervis who said that rather than rebuilding Christchurch it should be relocated to Dunedin.

Like most who were students at Otago I have a soft spot for Dunedin but the idea of relocating Christchurch there is ludicrous.

Some quake refugees have moved south but that’s very different from relocating the city infrastructure like the port and other services as Cr Vandervis is suggesting.

Many refugees have moved north or emigrated and if the city wasn’t rebuilt it’s more likely that people and businesses would choose those options over Dunedin.

Fortunately, most Christchurch people want to stay in or near the city which is their home and they have the backing to do so from central and local government which is committed to the rebuild and recovery.

Dunedin, and the rest of the South Island should be co-operating with and supporting that not trying to compete with the city.

Without a strong, vibrant Christchurch the whole of the south will suffer and the growing population imbalance between North and South Islands will get even bigger.

UPDATE: Just spotted a link on Facebook to Lonely Planet’s post-quake guide to Christchurch :

After two weeks on-the-ground research in Christchurch recently– Lonely Planet’s third visit since the February 2011 earthquake – we’re confident the city is one of New Zealand’s bravest and most resilient communities.

Our latest visit was unlike any other Lonely Planet research gig, with virtually all of the bars, cafes and restaurants recommended in our 2010 New Zealand guidebook no longer open. But amid the occasional uncertainty of aftershocks, Christchurch is re-emerging as one of NZ’s most exciting cities.

If you’re heading to the South Island of New Zealand, definitely spend a few days in the city. There’s still plenty to do, and you’ll be supporting the new businesses inspiring Christchurch’s renaissance. Note that there is considerable demand for Christchurch accommodation, and booking ahead is strongly recommended.

Lonely Planet sees what Cr Vandervis cannot – the city is still open for business and we should be supporting it.


Politician of year

December 16, 2011

The mood at the National’s Canterbury Westland Christmas Party on Monday night was buoyant.

Amy Adams and Jo Goodhew had been named in the new Cabinet, Minister Kate Wilkinson and MP Nicky Wagner had won their electorates and National had won the party vote in Christchurch.

That was due to the hard work of all the regions MPs but even more so on the government’s handling of the earthquakes and recovery.

The man responsible for that, Gerry Brownlee, was named Trans Tasman’s politician of the year:

Christchurch earthquake Tsar  Gerry Brownlee, the man who is credited for virtually singlehandedly  turning the once Labour stronghold of the Garden City into a sea of  Party Vote Blue in the election, has been named politician of the year by Trans Tasman’s Roll Call, NZ’s number one political newsweekly’s  annual ranking of the nation’s MPs.

Of Brownlee Trans Tasman says – “Without big party-vote majorities in several traditional Labour electorates in and  around Christchurch, National might have fallen behind the  aggregate vote of the parties aligned against it. The man at the  centre of this achievement is Gerry Brownlee.”

He was also Duncan Garner’s Minister of the year.

But this accolade is for Christchurch alone. It is an enormous problem. . .  

It had the potential to sink the Government. It’s a red town – that is now  painted blue.

John Key and Gerry Brownlee got the tone right. Sure there are some  disgruntled people. That happens. But the Government’s rescue packages were bang  on. The initial business rescue grants were extended and that was the right  decision.

The Government’s decision to buy thousands of written-off houses was the  biggest insurance package any Government anywhere in the world had offered its  citizens.

It is a massive extension to the welfare state. The Government acted because  it had to. The insurance companies have been slow to open their wallets. Their  behaviour over the next three years is being closely watched by the  Government.

I called it a silver plated scheme when it was released and I stand by that.

That National won Christchurch Central and Waimakariri is testament to  Brownlee’s work in his home town. I accept some households are not happy, but  given the scale of the disaster Brownlee and John Key have largely got the  Government’s response bang on.

Brownlee was the man at the top and as such he has been on the receiving end of criticism and frustration. The election result is a vote of confidence in him and the government from the people whose city he is helping rebuild.

It is an enormous challenge and he has tackled it while also having to deal with the loss of his home which was one of those severely damaged in the quakes.

The rebuild is a very long-term project, it will take at least a decade, maybe two, the magnitude and cost of the task is already impacting on us all. It is very important to get it right from the start and the people most affected, those in Christchurch and its hinterland, voted to show that, largely thanks to Brownlee, the government has.

 


Earthquake prediction reporting another nominee for Bent Spoon

August 29, 2011

NZ Skeptics awarded their 2011 Bent Spoon for journalistic gullibility to all media outlets and personalities who took Ken Ring’s earthquake predictions seriously.

The Bent Spoon was awarded telepathically by those gathered for the annual NZ Skeptics Conference which, appropriately given the winner was held in Christchurch at the weekend.

And there’s already another nominee for the next award. TV3 is reporting Ring’s predicting another big earthquake for Christchurch at the end of September.

He does qualify the prediction:

On his website, he says there is a “potent” lunar alignment in the last week of September, same as the one that existed at the time of the September 4, 2010 quake.

“Indeed, it may not happen, and we all hope not, but the main players will be in position,” he says. “For example we might observe that Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw are on the field, but that does not guarantee a win.”

And the report does include this:

A 3 News analysis of Mr Ring’s predictions earlier this year failed to show any evidence he was able to accurately predict earthquakes, and even his long-range weather forecasts did no better than chance.

Given that, why bother reporting this latest prediction? There is no news value in further predictions from someone whose predictions have been proved inaccuarte and even with the qualifications giving the prediction coverage is taking it seriously.

The Herald report is even worse, it doesn’t bother to report the unreliability of his previous predictions.

All media should ignore his predictions as the unscientific guess-work they are and anyone with any doubts should read, or re-read, David Winter’s scientific evaluation of the predictions.


Still shaking

July 22, 2011

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake in Canterbury at 5.39 this morning was felt throughout the South Island.

Reference Number 3550173 [View event in Google Maps][View Felt Reports in Google Maps]
Universal Time July 21 2011 at 17:39
NZ Standard Time Friday, July 22 2011 at 5:39 am
Latitude, Longitude 43.64°S, 172.20°E
Focal Depth 12 km
Richter magnitude 5.1
Region Canterbury
Location
  • 20 km north-west of Leeston
  • 20 km north-east of Rakaia
  • 40 km west of Christchurch

The Press says there’s been no reports of injuries or property damage but that might change when people inspect buildings in daylight.

The Paper also reports on the probabilityof future quakes:

. . . for the 12 months to July 15 next year there is:

a nearly one in two chance of a magnitude-5.5 to 5.9 aftershock

a one in seven or eight chance of a magnitude-6.0 to 6.4 quake

a one in 15 chance of a magnitude-6.5 to 6.9 shake, and

a one in 50 probability of a quake of magnitude 7.0 or higher.

In monthly terms, those figures translate to:

a one in 10 chance of a magnitude 5.5 to 5.9

a one in 25 chance of a magnitude 6.0 to 6.4

a one in 100 chance of a magnitude 6.5 to 6.9, and

a less than 1 per cent probability of a magnitude 7.0 or more.

Based on the same calculations, there could be up to five magnitude-5.0 to 5.4 aftershocks in the next 12 months, with a one in three chance of one in the next month.

I presume this story was written before this morning’s quake so that’s one of the probabl 5.0 – 5.4 quakes down.

 


Planet wins but doesn’t beat us

June 18, 2011

This week we’ve been reminded again that nature rules, or as Jim Hopkins said:

No power on earth can regulate the power of earth. The planet wins. It always does. And has for 4 billion years.

The ground beneath us quaked and the air above us was full of ash.

Australia to the west or the islands to the north come most readily to mind when we talk of neighbours. But the eruption of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle reminded us that over the fence and across the sea to the east is South America and what happens there can affect us here.

And when things happen we like to do something about it. To quote Hopkins again:

Fatalism does not sit well with Kiwis. We’re a DIY, GSI (Get Stuck In) bunch, wedded to the optimistic idea that there’s nothing a bit of No. 8 wire can’t fix or recreate.

Much as we’d like to we can’t stop the earth shaking nor can we stop the volcano spewing.

But bad as this week has been for so many, there have also been many reminders that nature’s worst encourages people’s best:

 “Stuff happens. We’ve just got to deal with it.” And we do. And we will. Because we can. That much we do control. The best time to laugh is when you want to cry.

The planet always wins but it doesn’t always beat us. People whose homes are in ruins, who are living without power, running water, functioning sewers or dealing with the frustrations of cancelled flights have shown that they can not only bear the unbearable they can keep on doing it. 

They couldn’t control what happened but they can and do control how they react.

This week there have been understandable tears and tantrums. But even when people have had more than enough they have also been strong, resilient, selfless, determined and shown that while the planet won they haven’t been beaten.


Another big aftershock

June 13, 2011

The earth moved  in North Otago at 1pm.

It was due to what Geonet recorded as a 5.5 aftershock 11 kilometres deep 10 kilometres east of Christchurch.

We hardly noticed the shaking but even the most stoic of Cantabrians must find their nerves overstretched by these continual reminders of February’s quake.

Update: The 2:20 quake was a 6, 9 km deep, 10kms south east of Christchurch.

Reference Number 3528839 [View event in Google Maps] [View Felt Reports in Google Maps]
Universal Time June 13 2011 at 2:20
NZ Standard Time Monday, June 13 2011 at 2:20 pm
Latitude, Longitude 43.58°S, 172.74°E
Focal Depth 9 km
Richter magnitude 6.0
Region Canterbury
Location
  • Within 5 km of Lyttelton
  • 10 km north of Diamond Harbour
  • 10 km south-east of Christchurch

“Triangle of life” advice disputed

March 17, 2011

An email doing the rounds advises people not to get under a desk or other furniture for protection during an earthquake but to curl up beside it in the triangle of life.

The email quotes Doug Copp of American Rescue Team International (ARTI) has other advice, including that it’s better to get out of a car and lie down beside it than stay in it.

But if you Google triangle of life you find the advice is disputed.

Urban legends and several other sites say that rather than saving lives, following the suggestions made in the email could endanger them.

Drop, cover and hold on is generally regarded as the best way to protect yourself during an earthquake.


8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan

March 12, 2011

Japan was quick to respond with help when the earthquake hit Christchurch.

What can we do to help Japan in the wake of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHrPwzbqNyM&NR=1


General donation better than specific

February 23, 2011

When disaster strikes it reflects well on human nature that most of us want to help.

If you’re not close enough, or qualified, to do something practical then donations to organisations helping and supporting those in need are the next best thing.

Relief funds were set up for the people of Canterbury after September’s earthquake and others have already been set up to help people after yesterday’s.

When you give to a charity like Red Cross you’ll have a choice of your money going to a specific project or general purposes.

One of the unexpected consequences of disasters is donations for relief efforts result in a shortage of funds for the good work which is business as normal for charities. Money given to a general fund can, and will, be used to help with a disaster but money given for a specific purpose can’t usually be directed elsewhere.

While a disaster generates generosity it’s often better not to target your donation to relief efforts, but to leave it to the organisation to direct it to where the need is greatest.


From the quake zone

February 22, 2011

The radio reported  a large earthquake in Christchurch when I was about half an hour away from the city.

There was no mention of the airport, where I was headed. I carried on, seeing nothing unusual until I reached my destination just as people were being evacuated. I turned round and joined the long, slow procession of vehicles heading south, listening with growing concern to National Radio.

I stopped at the Caltex petrol station a few kilometres from the airport to buy water but the power was out and the staff member said they couldn’t sell anything.

Traffic lights were out but drivers were calm and courteous, moving slowly and giving way to others to allow vehicles to keep moving through the intersection.

The BP station near Rolleston was crowded. A woman ahead of me in the queue was shaking and fighting tears. A young man said he’d only got out of Halswell because he had a four wheel drive vehicle.

As I waited for a gap in the traffic to allow me back on the road a bus drove past in the opposite direction, it’s driver clasping a cell phone to his ear and apparently oblivious to the fire engine trying to pass him, siren blaring and lights flashing.

I heeded the request to keep off the phone until I got to Darfield, rang my farmer to report in. He’d been talking to someone on the eighth floor of the Forsyth Barr building in the centre of Christchurch as the quake struck, he heard loud screams then the phone disconnected.

It took several tries and a long wait on hold, to get through to Air New Zealand.

Flights are expected to resume this evening but the only seat they could guarantee me was early tomorrow – the last on the flight. I was going up to Wellington for a meeting but it’s not essential for me to be there. I chose to leave the seat for someone whose need might be more urgent.

I am now heading home, counting my blessings and thinking of the people on Christchurch who may not have homes to go to, the ones who are injured, the ones who’ve been killed.

If there’s a lucky time to have an earthquake it was in the early hours of the morning when the September one struck. Today Christchurch’s luck ran out.


Two cities two codes?

September 20, 2010

Two weeks ago a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Canterbury and no-one was killed.

One of the reasons given for that was building codes which made homes, hotels and other buildings safer.

Two days ago the roof of Stadium Southland collapsed under the weight of the snow and again no-one was killed.

Is this a tale of two building codes?

If not, how can regulations which make buildings strong enough to withstand an earthquake in Canterbury not make a roof strong enough to withstand a snowfall in Southland?


We’re okay, we’ll be fine

September 15, 2010

I had to go into the centre of Christchurch on Monday. I was expecting mess and chaos but there was none.

 I saw some gaps where buildings used to be, I had to make a couple of detours round streets blocked by cranes and diggers, but apart from that it was very much business as usual.

Not PC has a letter from Christchurch and photos which back up my impressions of a city largely doing what it normally does .

It won’t be like that for the people whose homes and business places have been wrecked. But miraculously, they are the minority and everyone is doing what they can to help them clean up and rebuild as quickly as possible.

I talked about this with the friend I met for lunch.

She said, “The aftershocks are getting to us. But we’re okay and when the shaking stops we’ll be fine.”


Can we laugh yet?

September 12, 2010

One of the wonderful signs of human resilience is the ability to laugh in the face of great difficulty and to find the seeds of comedy in disaster.

In light of that, and the previous two posts, I hope it’s not too soon to share New Zealanders appeal unintelligibly for help after urthquake which starts:

World governments admitted they were ‘baffled’ last night after the New Zealand government issued a ‘fully incomprehensible’ message about an ‘urthquike’.

And finishes:

Julia Gillard, the newly-reelected prime minister of New Zealand’s English-speaking neighbour Australia, welcomed the US response. ‘She said it was ‘terliddle terlate yabladdy drongos’, Mrs Clinton said. ‘My translators tell me that means ‘God bless America.’

You can read the whole thing at News Biscuit.


Good news is good news

September 12, 2010

When the house stopped shaking last Saturday morning we turned on the television and radio.

It was too soon for local TV programmes but the BBC told us there’d been an earthquake in Canterbury, National Radio followed, relaying text messages and emails before reporters got to work.

Soon after TVNZ had pictures.

Heeding messages not to phone or text unless absolutely necessary, we waited for news from friends further north.

The rest of the country and people overseas waited too for the inevitable stories of tragedy and found it difficult to believe when they didn’t come.

Homes were destroyed and treasures broken; people were injured, but few seriously, and nobody was killed.

The media went in search of trauma and despair and didn’t find it.

As Jim Hopkins concluded his column (which is worth reading in full):

The real story of our earthquake is that it has done so little damage and caused so little grief. The real story of our earthquake is that only 400 people in a city of 360,000 needed special shelter.

The real story of our earthquake is a hundred thousand unsung acts of kindness, publicly evidenced by all those Facebook recruits in Sam Johnson’s Student Army.

Which brings us back to Tuesday’s question. The host in Auckland was interviewing a helper at the Addington Welfare Centre. She said 189 people had stayed overnight and expected more may arrive.

“You must have heard some tragic stories,” said the interviewer. The woman paused. She appeared to know what was expected of her and did her best.

“Well, some people are worried about their pets,” she replied.

When we build a monument to mark this violent event, those are the words that should be carved on the plinth. Not to minimise or trivialise the damage done but to put it into context and to celebrate what is, in truth, a great escape.

“Some people were worried about their pets”. Carve that in stone and let the words reflect the strength of the things we’ve made and the resilience we’re made of.

The bean counters who seem to have too much sway in the media think that bad news sells.

They may be right and to report only positive stories is a form of censorship.

But good news is good news and it’s been a pleasant change to read, hear and see so much of it in the past week.


That which doesn’t kill you . . .

September 12, 2010

Months after our second son died I was feeling awful.

I took myself to my GP with a long list of symptoms, convinced I had at least one very serious illness.

He listened to me carefully, examined me thoroughly then said, “The only thing I can rule out 100% is prostate cancer, but I can see no signs of any physical problem. I think you’re suffering from grief.”

He asked me if I remembered feeling like this after the death of our first son, and I said no. But later that day I thought about it and realised I had. The pain of losing our baby had become physical the first time but it hadn’t immunised me and I was feeling similar symptoms the second time.

There is no instant cure for grief, it’s not so much an illness you get over as a process you go through and we all go through it differently.

When people find out about our children a lot say, “I couldn’t cope.”

Most of them are wrong because most of us can and do cope when life throws us from the bowl of cherries into the pits.

We may not always cope well, but we cope as best we can and most of the time we cope well enough with our own resources and the love and support of family and friends.

Most isn’t everyone though, some people don’t cope and need professional help.

That’s the reasoning behind sending counsellors to Canterbury to help people deal with the psychological aftermath of the earthquake.

But Christchurch doctors are warning that hyping up natural fear and distress may do more harm than good.

Pegasus Health chairman Martin Seers said staff had been in touch with international experts who said “medicalising” people’s responses after a natural disaster could be harmful.

“We’re increasingly worried about the hyping up of people’s natural distress and think that will start creating mental illness instead of solving it,” he said. . .

. . . Canterbury psychological health earthquake response team spokeswoman Dee Mangin said most people were experiencing some psychological and physical symptoms of stress.

Mangin, who is also Pegasus’ mental health spokeswoman, said GPs wanted to put a clear message out that this was normal and healthy and did not mean people needed professional help.

Talk of PTSD was premature and unhelpful. “We know that most people will not require help or counselling to recover from what is a normal and healthy stress reaction to an extraordinary event,” she said. “Inappropriate intervention can do more harm than good for these people.”

This doesn’t mean no-one will need help and what the doctors are saying shouldn’t be interpreted to mean those who need help shouldn’t get it.

It doesn’t mean everyone won’t feel a range of strong, negative emotions including anger and despair. These are normal reactions to abnormal stress.

But most will be able to cope with what they’ve been through, the on-going difficulty of getting back to normal and the feelings associated with all that.

 Friedrich Nietzsche said, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. 

He could have added that most of us don’t know how strong we are until we’re tested.


Thank you Canterbury

September 11, 2010

People sell papers.

That was the advice the first editor I worked for kept telling reporters to keep us focussed on the human side of an issue.

There have been lots of people-focussed stories in the wake of last Saturday’s earthquake and almost all of them have been good.

There’s the dairy owner who gave away stock to customers on Saturday morning, the army of student-helpers who mobilised via Facebook.

There have been a few stories of people behaving badly. There was a bit of opportunistic looting before the police and army arrived;  a break-in and theft of equipment from a special-needs school and a few acts of stupidity which ended up in court.

But almost all the stories are about people behaving well in spite of what they are going through as the after-shocks continue.

The people of Canterbury have expressed gratitude to the rest of New Zealand and people further afield for support.

The rest of the country should be grateful to Cantabrians for showing that when nature misbehaves people don’t have to.

John Key said:

The scale of the destruction in the city I grew up in is hard to grasp until you see the amount of damage and talk to people about what they have been through.

But what strikes me – more than anything else – is how well people are coping. Some families have lost almost everything. They are scared and worried. And they don’t know how long the aftershocks will continue. But they are picking themselves up, helping out their neighbours and their friends, and soldiering on in some really tough circumstances.

 Thank you Canterbury.


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