How to protect your health in an emergency: lessons from the Christchurch earthquake



Once again, the earth moved violently last weekend, this time in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second biggest city, located in the South Island.

What is unusual about this earthquake that measured 7.4 in the Richter scale, is the minimum number of causalities and the minimum attention it attracted internationally despite the massive damage and devastation. Perhaps it is because of the former that resulted in the latter. However, many people in the affected areas had neither power nor water supplies for more than 24 hours.

The minimum loss of human life in this incident is mainly due to 2 factors: One, the event happened in the early hours of Saturday morning, so that the business and commercial district, the schools, the public transport, and the roads were practically empty. Two, New Zealand, specifically the city of Christchurch seems to get top points in preparedness, which should be a lesson to all of us.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health gives some advice on how to protect your health in case of natural disasters, dated June 2006. The advise is available online or can be downloaded as a PDF. A summary of the contents are given below.

Protecting your health in an emergency includes information for before, during and after an emergency on:

The booklet has three sections that tell you how you can protect your health in an emergency by:

On the other hand, the Christchurch quake also highlighted some limitations of the preparedness that was pointed Julia Becker, a researcher at the Massey University, located in Palmerston North, North Island. The Massey report was based on a survey conducted a year ago, September 29 in the wider Canterbury area where Christchurch is located. The survey revealed:

While most respondents identified earthquakes, flooding or drought to be the most likely natural hazards to strike within the next five years, just 40 per cent said they were likely to actively seek information on earthquake risk in the month of the survey and only 21 per cent indicated they would get involved with a local group to discuss ways of reducing earthquake risks. While half the respondents stated they intended to check or increase their level of preparedness for earthquakes in that month, only 20 per cent said they would definitely make preparedness checks.

The respondents to the survey also believed that the risks for such disasters in their area are very low. Let the Christchurch earthquake be a model and lesson for all of us, be as government authorities, health care workers, or private individuals. As Dr. Becker wrote:

“The Christchurch earthquake reminds us that earthquakes can happen and, that if you are prepared with food, water, furniture restraints and other essential items, you have high chance of surviving comfortably a large earthquake.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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