New Zealand sits on the edge of the Pacific Plate and being in that location produces earthquakes, volcanoes and mountainous terrain across the country. On 22 February 2011, Christchurch was struck by a disastrous earthquake that was less in magnitude (6.3) than the Darfield quake in September 2010 (7.1) according to the measuring scale, but was massive in terms of damage and casualties.
Since the previous quake there have been thousands of tremors or aftershocks measured by GeoNet NZ, a project that is funded NZ$9 million annually by Earthquake Commission. Christchurch is the second largest city in the country and the largest in the South Island with a population of nearly 400,000.
The timing of quake in the middle of the day meant that many more people were out and about as opposed to the very early morning scene previously. This catastrophic event led to many building collapses with a large number of lives lost. BuddeComm, all its staff and partners are saddened at the loss and send out love and prayers to all those effected by recent events of the earthquake.
Damage to infrastructure was much more severe with power off to many major utilities – including water and sewage, telecommunication towers destroyed, underground fibre and cabling damaged. In the September 2010 quake, the estimated damage bill was NZ$5 billion and with this latest event the estimated damages bill will exceed NZ$15 million according to early estimates.
The electricity network is slowly being restored with 50% back on within the first day. At the end of the first week more than 30,000 customers were still without power with the remainder of the network (84%) being advised to turn off power when leaving to conserve the fragile nature of the supply. After nearly a week 35% of the city’s water supply is still off, with tankers being used as temporary supply points.
As electricity outages caused congestion in the mobile networks and as mobile phones became flat, the internet became the communication vehicle. The world watched and viewed the catastrophe using mediums that used social networking such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Social networking became the conveyor of news and information, not only information about the event itself, but information about friends, family, loved ones and their status and location.
As companies were flooded from those in need with telephone calls and enquiries and unable to cope with the demand, Twitter accounts and company blogs became the access method. TradeMe provided a message board for communication between those needing and those who can provide help. A person finder site was setup by Google. Hash tags such as #CHCH and #EQNZ were used to track information. Statistics New Zealand has postponed the March 2011 census due to the effects of the disaster.
Portable mobile cell towers were brought in to cope with the extra demand on the mobile networks. Portable generators were being used to provide electricity to the mobile towers, communication centres and roadside cabinets while the electricity network is repaired.
Telecommunications companies provided many free or reduced cost services for those in the area. Telecom offered free calls from the public phones that operate; TelstraClear advised that all outgoing national and international calls would be free for Christchurch residents two weeks. Free WiFi was available in the city centre in many other locations and at the airport.
Used telecommunication equipment such as analogue phones and laptops were items in demand by homes and businesses as much of the existing equipment was either damaged by falling debris or did not work with the unreliable power supply.
Many companies donated goods and services as well, free water, free gas bottle refills, community laundries and many products being given to the Salvation Army and Red Cross for distribution at emergency centres. Donations were able to be made by texting shortcodes with all of the carriers in New Zealand with a small donation NZ$3 being received by SMS.
International assistance came to New Zealand with emergency workers arriving from countries including Australia, Britain, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States. International monetary aid also was received from around the world. A government website was setup for those individuals and business wanting to give by credit cards, [http://www.christchurchearthquakeappeal.govt.nz/].
The challenge for all disasters is of course the rebuilding process. Is it a patch up procedure or should a trans-sector approach be taken so that the best of today’s IT can be utilised across the rebuilding process to provide long-term economic benefits. Running FttH/FttP instead of repairing copper lines, installing smart meters for the management of smart grids on the electrical networks are just two possible options.
A coordinated trans-sector approach maybe needs to be put into place by government and planners for times when disasters occur and the rebuilding requires a holistic approach to better managing the advancement of the e-economy.
For more information on New Zealand, see separate reports at: