- A 7.8 earthquake and too many aftershocks to count
- Floods in Wellington
- Gale force winds
Is this Mother Nature’s way of pointing out how vulnerable we are?
Natural disasters have a way of reminding us how much we take for granted the services we rely on… Power, drinking water, waste water, rubbish collection, to name a few. When those basic services are taken away we adopt old school survival tactics; but being separated from love ones plus enduring dislocation and/or physical harm, ensure that basic fight or flight responses kick in, as fears both real and imagined come into play. It can take some time to come down from that adrenalin high or to climb out of the cocoon we have built in the hope of protecting ourselves.
The three stages of survival following a natural disaster - (According to Rosie)
The following points are based purely on my own observations, they have no scientific measurement. Nevertheless, I wanted to share with you my reflections on the three stages of survival following a natural disaster.
In first response mode, we are just grateful for any figure of authority to inform us what is going on and provide instructions, provisions and sometimes comfort. At this time, we see another side of building inspectors than we would normally. In these circumstances, they are often welcome guests whereas in a normal situation they are too often vilified for just doing their job of compliance.
The general public are unhappy about displacement from their apartments, shops or offices. Understandably, we want to get back to normal as soon as possible; after all routine makes us feel safe.
Eventually things get back to a new normal and then our expectations start to rise again.
In some cases, the getting back to normality may be fairly fast and this can be psychologically beneficial as we adopt familiar routines and habits.
Over time, as routines return, we get complacent and take for granted the very things we valued so much just a few weeks before.
Our thinking minds kick back into gear. And sometimes the fear turns into anger and frustration. We want somebody to blame, and we want some reassurance this won’t happen again. Sadly, this particular want can never be satisfied, by anyone!
Despite safety being a basic bottom tier need on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Nobody, be that an engineer or a building inspector can absolutely and categorically guarantee any other person’s safety in a building.
The very next event could blow all the theories out of the water.
It’s easy to be critical of a building’s suitability after a disaster and expect its performance to exceed that of the era it was built in. But one must remember a building has to be under 33.3 per cent of current code to be deemed an earthquake prone building! That low threshold gives a lot of leeway and a lot of unknowns about the buildings at say 45 – 50 per cent.
Strangely, when it comes to buildings we don’t expect fire compliance or insulation to sit at 33.3 per cent of code, these must be 100 per cent. But structural changes to buildings are intrusive and expensive. It’s important to remember that in emergency or extraordinary circumstances New Zealand’s building code is designed ensure residents can evacuate a building safely, it is not designed to make the building 100 per cent usable the next day.
During recent events, most buildings have performed as expected. a smaller number have failed.
The reality is that we live in a country which is prone to earthquakes and the world as a whole is seeing weather extremes with huge environmental effects. Add to this mix, a huge stock of old buildings that were never built to modern building code anyway and we have a melting pot of instability. But remember that if the Government made a rule overnight that every building had to meet 100 per cent of the building code, the country would be bankrupt. Even then, there would be no guarantee that those buildings would be safe to occupy after 14000 aftershocks (the number experienced after Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2012).
We are damned if we do upgrade, and damned if we don’t.
Let’s start the conversation from a basis of acknowledgement that nobody can take responsibility for our guaranteed safety in the face of natural disaster.