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The Christchurch Earthquakes

The Christchurch Earthquakes and a Senior Business Continuity Consultant

When the Christchurch earthquakes hit in 2010, there were varying disruptions that people with all types of experiences needed to overcome. For one of RiskLogic’s most senior consultants, his time had come to act and use what he had been training out for over a decade.

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That unmistakable feeling that the world just got unstable is becoming a way of life in NZ, but you never get used to the nightmare that is an Earthquake. It seems almost comical to chuck a Senior Business Continuity Consultant into an Earthquake, then be evacuated due to Tsunami risk – exactly what we preach daily.

The one that hit our 2-story house at Waikuku Beach just after mid- night on Monday the 14th November, felt like it was never going to stop. As a Crisis Management Consultant, I frequently talk about my experiences in the Christchurch 2010/11 EQ and the stress that each aftershock brings, because you never really know how long it’s going to last. This was no aftershock, this was the real deal and it just wouldn’t stop, 40 seconds of the ground turning to jelly then, 2-3 minutes of it trying to settle into its new bed beneath our feet. Remember in the 80’s when those water beds came out and destroyed everyone’s backs? Well, it felt like my home had been placed on one of those and we were told to brace.

Survival mode kicks in, following the standard drill; drop, cover, hold. A quick inspection for damage, a couple of broken ornaments but no rushing water, no cracks in the walls. Initial impact assessment complete. Time to get the incident team together, me and the wife! Sorry old habits die hard, processes just kick in and stuff gets done, yes I’m an incident nerd!

Things are not good, but are we in a crisis yet? If we are then this definitely has the characteristics of a sudden crisis:

  • Unpredictable, unexpected: Fast asleep in dreamland this was certainly unexpected.
  • High degree of instability: we were certainly all over the place for the first 5 mins, is this really happening again after the five years of torment already?
  • The immediate potential for extreme negative results: Things seem OK in our world but we had no idea that most of NZ were feeling this one. My flight to wellington later in the day was looking doubtful.
  • Immediate management attention, time and energy: With the realisation of a real threat of Tsunami my attention was now focusing on our escape plan.
  • Often brings about organisation change: Living at the beach is losing its charm, my wife is looking for higher ground!

Being in the business and being an EQ veteran the “grab bag” is always ready to go. The basics in tow, torch, gas cooker, first aid kit, water, tins of beans, battery charger, sleeping bag, etc and of course, dog food! So when the Tsunami alert was given we were ready to go. We had a plan and we were just about to put it into effect.

But planning and doing are two different things, again something I’ve spent many years trying to teach. The realisation when we drove out of our drive joining the rest of the fleeing villagers, that we might not see our house again, can’t be simulated in an exercise. Not that I have made my wife practice our evacuation procedures, I’m not that much of a nerd! But I was working hard to recall my training on the human impact of a crisis. Magnified by the fact that our animal family was one short, the cat was nowhere to be seen! Despite trying to follow what you’ve been taught and what we know as professionals, emotions start to sink in. Driving away in the pitch black with our lovely, peaceful house fading into the background in my rear view mirror, not knowing whether it would handle the night ahead.

Just to put it into perspective, you can see the ocean from our window and walk to it in four minutes. We were the exact people the Police wanted to evacuate.

Impact assessment complete, the team assembled, communications complete to my son in Wellington and our recovery strategy initiated, relocate to an alternate location. Classic 5 initial steps to managing your crisis.

Of course, these actions relate to recovering your business, but why not relate them to your own preservation too? Having a plan, any plan is always a good idea. In a night of unknowns and real stress, it certainly helped to focus my mind. After 7 hours of sitting in our truck on a hill with the dogs, not knowing if the 5-meter wave predicted was coming, it was a relief when we got the all clear to head home.

Time now to put my business continuity for my business into action, my clients in NZ, Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson and Tauranga were dealing with their own issues, our meetings were put on hold, but my Australian clients would still need attention. My Maximum Allowable Outage (MAO) 24 hours, for my critical process Respond to client enquiries and issueswas not under threat.

Lessons learned:

1) Every incident is different, this was real – not a test, but we can still learn from it. We can always do things better. My fuel tank on the truck had dropped below half full. Always keep it above half.

2) Don’t panic, it really doesn’t help. Your employees or your wife won’t appreciate it, people need to be lead by a strong confident leader.

3) Make a decision. The Tsunami alarm didn’t work, some people stayed. The radio said leave because that was the advice from Civil defense. Better to get ahead of the game, you can always come back if it’s a false alarm.

4) Have a good plan for the pets, they have to come and they don’t always want to. The cat needs a cat box, he will run off the first chance he gets.

5) Have your grab bag ready to go. Check it frequently, stuff can go out of date.

6) Have a plan, any plan. Remember the 6 Ps. Prior preparation and planning, prevents piss poor performance!

The gas cooker was on full noise on the tailgate of the Hilux 4×4 for the first brew of the day while the sun rises over our disfigured land, and I have internet connectivity, we are literally “cooking on gas” now. Normal business has resumed, even if I am standing knee deep in a paddock of cow dung!

Until next time, Plan, do, check, act…

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