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New Zealand quake update 

I wouldn’t normally write a news update like this on our blog as there is no shortage of excellent and up-to-date information on the earthquake in New Zealand – the main value of CRJ lies in analysis and reflection. But I thought it might be useful to provide a brief ‘resilience summary’ noting the situation regarding Police and Fire Service operations, as well as the status of essential infrastructure.

It is already noticeable that telecommunications and social networking are once again coming to the fore, prompting questions about how these will develop in future. When a telecommunication system is damaged and overloaded after a disaster and when people are being urged to restrain themselves to using text messages rather than phone calls or data usage, how do we reconcile this with the need to use – and indeed the reliance upon – social networking tools that can give people a full picture of what’s happening and which are incredibly useful in reuniting people?

It is also interesting that NZ Telecom is asking for old fashioned phones – ie those that don’t require power – to be donated so they can give them to people in Christchurch to help them stay in touch.

Here’s the update, compiled from government and official sources.

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake occurred 10km south-east of Christchurch at 12:51, February 22, 2011. The New Zealand Crisis Management Centre was activated and a National State of Emergency declared.

Christchurch Central Business District (CBD) and Lyttleton suffered considerable damage, with a number of collapsed or seriously damaged buildings. The time of the quake meant that many people were in offices at the time.

A large number of people were pulled alive from collapsed buildings. At the time of writing, the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) personnel had attended 188 incidents. Ten NZ Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams were being assisted by teams from New South Wales, Queensland, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. Teams from the UK (with 57 personnel) and the USA are en route. INSARAG teams have also been mobilised.

The total number of USAR personnel deployed was 496 people.

Rescue activities were ongoing in ten priority buildings where people were reported trapped. The main sites were the Pyne Gould Corporation (PGC) building and Christchurch Cathedral. Activity at the Canterbury Television building (CTV) was suspended, owing to instability of neighbouring buildings.

The Christchurch Fire Operations Command was based in the grounds of the Transalpine Region offices. NZFS executive officers, administrators, as well as welfare, logistics and IT personnel from around the country were deployed to Christchurch. An Earthquake Support Group operated out of national headquarters.

Police officers, including DVI experts, were being deployed to Christchurch. About 200 staff mobilised as part of the immediate response, with another 130 on their way in the next few days. Australian police were also mobilised to help with rescue operations.

Christchurch Police imposed tight restrictions in the central area of the town, amid fears of further building collapse. As at 19:54hrs local time on February 24, at least 37 aftershocks greater than magnitude four had been recorded, with four above magnitude five. Aftershocks are expected to continue, leading to further damage.

Christchurch hospital remained operational, though one ward was evacuated.

Approximately 1146 persons had been moved out of Christchurch to Wellington or Auckland by air bridge. Some streets were evacuated because of concerns about landslips.

Eighteen bridges and 25 distributor roads were made impassable owing to flooding and structural or surface damage. All state highways and state highway bridge structures were inspected and although some sustained minor damage, all bridges were declared safe and all other state highways in the region remained open. There was some damage to rail links and the airport was opened to domestic and international flights – at revised schedules – from the afternoon of February 23.

Power, telecommunications and essential services suffered extensive disruption, although restoration work was progressively providing increased utility services. Extensive liquefaction throughout the affected area caused additional management and restoration issues.

The authorities asked people to use text messaging to check on families and friends, in order to minimise further loading on the telecommunications network. They also asked people to refrain from using data services, such as internet browsing, as they said this was leading to congestion.

Traffic was so high on the NZ Police website that it became unavailable to some people. Police staff and their web hosts were working on the issue, but did not have a firm time for the site to be live to all users.

The internet proved a well-used resource, according to reports, with Google’s Crisis Response Service having thousands of names recorded on its ‘person finder’ tool. People also tweeted updates on missing friends and relatives, and updates about the situation on the ground including where to find drinking water, petrol and working ATMs. Facebook users offered accommodation to people affected by the quake.

Meanwhile, Telecom New Zealand issued a plea for old or spare home phones to give to people in Christchurch, explaining: “Many people in the city don’t have power, and if they have a modern cordless phone which needs power to run, they won’t be able to make calls. “The older, analogue phones just plug straight into the wall jack point and don’t need power to run.”   

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