Our shaky isles demand respect

As far as national monikers go, the Shaky Isles is fairly apt for New Zealand. We live on a landmass still in the midst of formation with the powerful Pacific and Indo-Australian plates colliding beneath our feet.

Our land shakes, it rips apart, it belches volcanic activity and it does it all at the bottom of the world, a huge distance from our nearest neighbours.

Not only is our land a dangerous place - it is isolated.

It is also sparsely populated, spread not just over great distances but over a great variety of landforms. We have communities living at sea level, in mountain passes, on foothills and plains, beside powerful rivers and in vast rainforests. The connection between these communities is often precarious at the best of times, and utterly impassable at the worst.

All of which should lead our population to be aware, prepared and trained to deal with the shaking these isles are so famed for. But are we?

Sunday's 5.5-magnitude quake northeast of Milford Sound shook the South and, at a depth of just 5km, could have caused major damage had it occurred a little closer to civilisation. So, too, could the series of aftershocks which followed.

News reports were quick to spell out not only what happened, but also what we all must do to ensure we're prepared for a similar quake affecting our homes or businesses.

Experts implored us to stock up our "emergency kits'', ensure we were ready for a destructive quake and ensure our loved ones and colleagues knew how to act if such a disaster hit our homes or businesses.

Has there been a subsequent rush of people buying bottled water, canned food, batteries, medical supplies and the like?

Have people been pulling out their well-stocked emergency kits and checking all is up to standard?

Or, is it more likely that, for many of us, no emergency kit exists? Is it more likely no plan exists - especially among homeowners - which details where to shelter, what to do and what not to do if the house starts shaking?

It is likely many of us consider such preparations to be either unnecessary or just uninteresting; too hard, too boring, too complicated.

It involves us thinking not only of the future, but of a future which may not even happen. After all, we may say, how likely is it really that another quake could cause the sort of carnage Christchurch has suffered through in our lifetimes?

It is likely many of us would need significant encouragement to plan and prepare for a devastating earthquake. A marketing campaign, perhaps, at significant cost to the taxpayer, might work. A subsidised or pre-prepared free kit would probably grab our attention.

But we shouldn't think that way. We are fathers and mothers of children who depend on us. We are employers and bosses of staff whose safety we are responsible for. We are friends and partners and spouses and grandparents.

We matter, our wellbeing matters, and the wellbeing of those close to us matters.

We shouldn't need enticement or encouragement to do what's needed to look after ourselves, those we are responsible for and those we love. Personal responsibility is the cornerstone of our nation's past, present and future - we are the nation who defies the odds at the edge of the world through resilience and hard work.

The shaking many of us felt on Sunday should be all we need to jolt us into action. We should all have emergency kits. For those of us close to the Southern Alps, we are already in the firing line. For those of us closer to the coast, the experiences of our friends in Christchurch show there is no consolation in believing it "probably won't happen here''.

We are, all of us, inhabitants on these shaky isles and we should prepare accordingly.


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