Sunday, 20 November 2016

What would you take?

What a week! It started with a long, sharp series of jolts in the form of a severe 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It has been a long, unsettled week for those of us navigating the aftermath of this quake and the several thousand that have followed. I can barely begin to imagine how the poor folk near the quakes' epicentre are feeling, let alone contemplate how Cantabrians have lived with this state of uncertainty for so many years.

The quake that woke us up just after midnight was actually two major quakes near each other but with different actions. I was convinced it was Wellington's long overdue 'big one', but it wasn't even on our faultline. And then the aftershocks began and a heightened sense of what we might be in for set it.

A lot has been said about the quality of information available in the critical minutes and hours following the initial earthquake. So many mixed messages from various sources. The radio said one thing but contradicted itself shortly after. Various well-intended emergency sites were interpreting information in different ways. It's hard to know where some of these offices are located and what exact local knowledge they have. WREMO (Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office) posts excellent updates on Facebook and Twitter. I was glued to them both. Social media was having a field day, but ended up being my deciding factor.

Stay or go?

Long term Wellingtonions are well versed in the risk of a major earthquake. In reality, most (myself included) are quite complacent about it and as a result are less prepared than they should be. But the very real risk of a tsunami is another thing. There are blue tsunami lines painted on some roads in tsunami-prone suburbs. They were little more than talking points when they were first painted many years ago and are probably best taken with a grain of salt today.

But this earthquake was different. Even though it was inland, there was talk of a 2m tsunami forming and sea levels pulling out along Wellington's south coast. Or was it the east coast? (Southern suburbs were named - so confusing.) What is the real risk? Do we stay? Should we go? When? Where: higher ground or inland? Walk or drive? If we head for the hills, won't everybody else be doing the same thing and cause a traffic jam which will be worse when there are more quakes?

Firstly, let's look at the criteria for evacuating your property if there is a tsunami risk.
  1. There has been a long or strong earthquake. [Heck, yes! 7.8 and lasting a couple of minutes]
  2. You are unable to stand up during the earthquake. [Yes. Very hard to keep balance.]
  3. You live in a coastal area or tsunami red zone. [Just 100m up the road.] 
I have since learned that our region does not usually activate sirens for locally (NZ) generated tsunami, so it's even more important to know the evacuation criteria and make an informed choice.

We were extremely lucky - for so many reasons. We didn't sustain any major damage. All our utilities (power, water, gas, internet, etc) were still running. We had somewhere safe to go. We had two easily accessible vehicles with a reasonably clear path to our destination. And the pussy cat walked back into the house at just the right moment to seal our decision: we'd shove her into her cat carrier and evacuate. The tsunami sirens rang out through the Hutt Valley just as we arrived at our destination.

What to take?

After being caught short a number of years ago, we purchased a pre-packed emergency survival backpack for our home and also bought a number of smaller first aid kits for our cars and work. We don't have everything we need but are in a better position than we have been in the past. If you can't work out what should be in your kit, these packs are invaluable and a great place to start.

Years of navel gazing quizzes and memes make you think you're prepared. They ask what you would rescue if there was a fire/flood/emergency and you only have moments to decide what you value most. Of course, everybody is safe in these scenarios so you only need to think of worldy possessions. Your survival packs are ready to go. It's easy to speculate.
"I'd collect up my (conveniently located and easy to pack) photo albums and wedding dress/children's christening gown/baby foot bronze statue/priceless piece of art/Olympic gold medal/[insert other sentimental value here]."
Sure you would.

Newspaper reports busily collated their own lists. Everyone has their own theory.

What we took

Here's what we took when we evacuated our home at 2.30am last Monday morning. Remember that we were leaving in a car so had the luxury of throwing more things in than we would if evacuating on foot. We also had somewhere to go where we were 99.5% certain they had enough food, water and amenities for us (unless they sustained damage in subsequent quakes).
  • Grab bag, pre-purchased and ready to go. It includes a torch, dynamo radio, first aid kit and various other essential items.
  • Laptops, phones, back up hard drive, camera, Kindle and chargers for everything. We already carry portable chargers for our phones and there is also one in my emergency kit at work.
  • Backpacks with some basic warm clothes (underwear, hats, change of t-shirt, thermals, pants) and good walking shoes.
  • Toilet bag and toothbrushes.
  • Raincoats, polar fleece jackets.
  • Yowling, moaning cat in a cat carrier and a bag of cat food (pellets).
  • My grandmother's rings and my whānau taonga. That's it. I realised that everything else was just stuff.
What I should have taken:
  • Passports and other important documents, although I should also scan copies of these and save them in various locations (portable hard drive and cloud).
What I should have left behind:
  • My work coat and swipe card. I was stupidly thinking about what I'd wear if I had to go to work directly from my new location, although hadn't thought about dress clothes. Seriously, why/how would that happen if I couldn't even return home?
  • Fitbit. It's not even a particularly valuable piece of equipment. Why did I bother? 
So, now you've had time to think about it, what would you take?

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