Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Ready for the Big One?

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  • Tom Semmens,

    I had to check where my friends were after the big quake in Chile - fortunately, they were all in Madrid and Miami, where they remained for a few days before flying back to Santiago. The interesting feedback has been that the parts of the country built by and for the elite are badly shaken and slightly cracked but more or less intact. They’ve got broken mirrors and tellys and the like but the electricity was back quickly, the water never stopped and life is now going on again as normal.

    The jokes about wind up power appliances are not that silly listening to what my Chilean friends have to say. The only social tool that remained fully working was facebook; my Chilean friends say that FB went into overdrive for both businesses and friends checking in and confirming their family/employees/friends status, relieving not just people but i would have thought also taking pressure off the telephone network. Given the internet was initially planned to allow communication in the event of global nuclear holocaust that does make sense.

    Like Haiti, it seems the mobile network has been more immediately resilient than the landlines and operated for a day or two until batteries went flat - time enough to confirm loved ones in battered areas were alive but that was all. Communications then went down and until these American satellite phones arrived all contact was lost. It seems to me then that the need for resilient, independent independent power (solar, wind up, treadmill, whatever) supplies both great and small to support the wireless internet and the mobile phone network are THE key requirement in an earthquake. Some of that might require extensive forward planning (backup generators that might run using multi-fuel options, solar panels, etc) but little things like wind up chargers for mobiles, laptops and radios/torches can and should easily be designed, built and stockpiled ahead of a disaster.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    After reading the chapter of Bill Bryson's 'short history of nearly everything' that deals with volcanoes, I decided that the only way I'd ever get any sleep ever again was to do whatever the mental equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going 'lalalalalalalala can't hear you' is.

    The volcanoes that create the cones aren't the dangerous ones (well, relatively speaking). The really dangerous ones are the ones that just erupt completely unexpectedly and without warning out of an otherwise innocuous looking piece of flat ground. There are plenty of lakes around NZ that were formed as a result of these types of eruptions. Including Lake Taupo.

    Now, have a think about how big Lake Taupo is, and what sort of force would be required to shift all that rock and mud...

    Feeling queasy yet?

    I read somewhere a while ago that pretty good sized chunks of rock (as in, family car sized) from that particular eruption have been found in Australia. That's quite an impressive sub-orbital lob...

    If we get anything that big again, I don't think a few bottles of water in the basement is going to be much use. More like 'goodnight NZ, and thanks for playing'.

    Yellowstone Park is quite similar. It has all the features of one of these 'flat' types of volcanoes, but for years geologists couldn't work out where the caldera was. Until the space programme started and they got orbital photos. Basically, the whole of Yellowstone is a volcano. A volcano so big, you can only see the whole thing when you're in orbit. Apparently it's overdue for another blow.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    I've lately wondered if GNS staff and media organisations should consider avoiding using the word "wave" to describe a tsunami.

    To give them credit, NatRad were actually pretty good about making the distinction on Sunday morning.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I took a stage one geology course at the UoA a few years ago, which was directed by Ian "Reliable Source Of Volcano-Related Quotes For Journalists" Smith. Great guy, and very enthusiastic about painting a picture for us of just how powerful and dangerous and likely a volcanic eruption under Auckland would be.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Palmy's a flood plain - it's right on the Manawatu River. What about Masterton? :-)

    We have some intermittently filled water containers and a 10kg sack of rice for the Big One/pandemic/can't be arsed shopping this week. And multiple jars of chutney in the fridge that various people have given us. I reckon you could keep going for a while on chutney.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Nat Websta,

    It's correct scientifically but it's also completely misleading to people who don't typically think of a water wave as a surging wall of water with a 100 km wavelength of force behind it that won't slow down and stop as it comes up the beach.

    This is a really good point, as noted. It's also pertinant to remember that 1 cubic meter of water weighs 1000kg. So it's not just that the water is moving, or that there is a massive volume of it, it's that it has an enormous mass which will push all before it (including trucks, shipping containers, trees etc etc).

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    Palmy's a flood plain - it's right on the Manawatu River. What about Masterton? :-)

    I knew that was going to backfire on me. So, Masterton. Or Timaru.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Scott A,

    I thought this Supercity thing was supposed to do away with all this "disaster" malarkey.

    The wilds of Kingston, We… • Since May 2009 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    A supercity needs a superdisaster!

    Like the rugby world cup entertainment planning, for example....

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    The Christmas before last I gave all my near relatives (and a close friend) wind-up radio/torch/battery chargers for Christmas (not that I'd want to use the wind-up battery charger except under emergency conditions, there is a lot of winding to recharge an AA battery). I also gave my wife a AA battery cell-phone recharger. So we can recharge batteries in in the radio, and use them to recharge a cellphone. Because I bought on sale, from memory it was about $30 a radio, and about $8 for the cellphone recharger.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Alien Lizard (anag),

    I think the US would notice if the left coast's ports were shut down for any length of time...

    Won't they be using their new NAFTA economic corridors from Mexico? (Though Mexico is not exactly earthquake free itself...)

    ...a surging wall of water with a 100 km wavelength of force behind it ...

    that description reminds me of something...

    The Arrrgh Complex • Since Jan 2010 • 158 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Do the contents of the hot water cylinder count?

    Not of you don't have it tied down well enough that it escapes during the quake and crushes someone. Nor does it count if your house is on on traditional NZ brick piles, or is not bolted to the concrete foundation or doesn't have good enough shear walls to stay put and the whole thing collapses around you.

    You learn all about this stuff when you get the building inspection when you buy a house in California.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    You learn all about this stuff when you get the building inspection when you buy a house in California.

    I've just been told I need a Seismic Strap...

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Alien Lizard (anag),

    Basically, the whole of Yellowstone is a volcano. A volcano so big, you can only see the whole thing when you're in orbit. Apparently it's overdue for another blow.

    I've been keeping an eye on the Yellowstone Earthquake maps (and more info here) for a while now - always activity there, constant in some
    areas and shifting about regularly as well...
    caldera info here and plume info here,
    fascinating stuff...

    The Arrrgh Complex • Since Jan 2010 • 158 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    I've just been told I need a Seismic Strap...

    Did the earth move...

    ...sorry, I'm having a hyperactive episode. I'm just initiating a self-regulatory 'Time out'.

    Postscript. God, I just read your blog post after posting this, so hope my comment above wasn't considered out of line. Glad to have you back.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    A supercity needs a superdisaster!

    I want to know which superheroes we can expect.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    The other thing to remember is that "three days" is a minimum all over the world, including countries that have land borders and can expect heavy rescue teams to begin arriving within hours.
    By contrast, New Zealand has precisely three urban search and rescue task forces, equipped and trained only to the medium rescue level (that is they can deal with houses, maybe mid-rise office buildings, but nothing to the scale of much of the CBDs of Auckland or Wellington), and based in Auckland (TF3), Palmy (TF1), and Christchurch (TF2). If the big one hits Auckland, TF3 will likely be out of business. AIAL will probably also be out of business. That leaves us with two teams, formed on a basis that they can deal with a single collapsed structure in 72 hours, hundreds of kms from the scene and in need of road transit, and a whole hell of a lot of ocean in the way of other help.
    Also, if AIAL is closed, there're only two other air fields that can take a full 747: Christchurch, and Ohakea. Both of which are rather a long way away from Auckland, and in Christchurch's case separated by more water from Wellington and Auckland. Ohakea doesn't have customs or offload facilities for heavy commercial transport, which is also a significant complication.

    Short version: three days is optimistic to the point of stupidity. Five is more realistic, and if you can go all the way to seven then you kinda understand what's likely to befall you.

    Disclosure: I'm planning to live off nice thoughts and good wishes in the event of a major disaster. We have about enough food in the house for three days of eating lightly, and a full hot water cylinder and toilet cistern, but no cooking sources. Do have torches galore, with batteries, and a portable radio.

    PS: Those cistern block thingees you buy for your toilet are a really bad idea. That's 9-11 litres of water that you can't drink in an emergency.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I've just been told I need a Seismic Strap...

    Is that for your house or your bedroom? ;)

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    I want to know which superheroes we can expect.

    Is 'The Free Market' a superhero? He is certainly credited with near-omniscent powers by His bands of devoted followers.

    I anticipate we'll end actually end up with this bunch of pathetic Lame-o's

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    The Pompeii exhibition at Te Papa at the moment has a great 3D video about how the volcano (which hadn't erupted for centuries) wiped the place out in a few hours. 35 km plume that collapsed over the landscape - called Plinian after a young eye witness. The map of the region looked much like Taranaki with a single benign mountain.

    As a good Wellingtonian I expect the big earthquake any minute. Always have an escape route close, and don't like being high up in a building or underground (or in traffic tunnels). Have torches (the wind ups) and radios around the house. Have stored food and water in the garage. However, that assumes we are at home when it happens and can access it. Have done some first aid courses but not very good at it (faint at blood). Not really worried about dying, but don't like the idea of being injured and trapped. That all sounds very neurotic!

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    Clearly spending years as a brownie and then girl guide has the be prepared motto drummed into my head

    as a safety nerd I have 12 4litre bottles of water, tins, waterproof matches & other boring things in the garage and i check it every 12 months. I also have a chocolate & vodka stash becuase in an emergency they will make everything ok.

    my tip is that everyone at an office should do is have good walking shoes stashed somewhere, if an earthquke hits you'll be needing to walk home and heels do not make for a good journey.
    of course those catching trains in wellington probaly are prepared on that one already.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    called Plinian after a young eye witness.

    Please don't tell me that is a quote from Te Papa.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    Water? Do the contents of the hot water cylinder count?

    Might dig out the old homebrew kit. Stopped using it years ago because it always resulted in having lots of very sub-par beer. Stuff that would sit around for long periods undrunk and eventually need to be drained away - at the time I felt this was a disadvantage, but now that the Big One is coming...

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    New Zealand is hardly likely to suffer a water shortage, being both pluvial and Plinian.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I have a cupboard full of things like millet and shitake mushrooms bought with the idea that I'd learn to cook something new which I never did - that'll see us through i reckon.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

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