“Our experience here in Christchurch has created a huge opportunity to collate all of our collective learnings and support other organisations and communities with advice on how to best tailor preparations for their own ‘what if’ scenarios? That is the power of resilience."
– Dr Jan Kupec, Technical Director – Ground Engineering, Aurecon
“Societies cannot respond to events of this magnitude without strong relationships between central government, local government and the private sector. Importantly, the private sector will invest when they are confident about the commitment of government. For Christchurch, supporting property rights is especially important. We had to protect property rights on the one hand, but at the same time, where necessary, use the powers of central government to acquire property to consolidate. This helped people look after their family, look after their business and secure a good future,” says Baden Ewart, formerly Director of the CCDU/CERA.
Resilience is all about outwitting challenges. Identifying weak spots encourages smarter investments and prepares a community for challenges, change or impending disaster. Christchurch experienced a unique and unprecedented loss. Key infrastructure was annihilated. Buildings that could fall did and now needed to be replaced. But with replacement design comes the onus and common interest to build with greater resilience in mind.
“It is now about thinking of the potential for flooding, earthquakes, fire and social destruction. Then it’s about asking the ‘what if?’ questions and working together to ascertain how to deal with these as a community, as a group, and as an organisation. That’s where the power of resilience is the most effective. We are a much safer city than before,” says Jan.
“For me, I felt that it was really important to understand how other cities have both responded and recovered from the challenges that they have confronted. What I found was that people internationally were really open to help,” says Mayor Dalziel.
When disaster strikes, in any form, many existing systems and lines of communication are no longer available. Yet individuals still have knowledge and experience. New systems and process will need to be found or created, yet by combining local knowledge with external experience the outcome will be better than the original.
The Christchurch recovery was, in many aspects, a world-first. With no international best practice or guidelines for earthquake-related demolitions of this scale, the team had to see potential through the lens of innovation. “With not having a CBD for many years, our central city became a source of inspiration as people had to rethink how they did things before and come up with new ways to entertain or provide residents with shopping or eating-out options”, says Liz Robinson of Aurecon. The success of the city’s Recovery Plan was rooted in the mindset of the people, who saw a city in ruins as a clean slate on which to write new opportunity.
Peter Townsend, CEO, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, says the success story of Christchurch City’s recovery wasn’t about having water and bandages or civil defence gear in your building, it was about having backup systems and being able to locate your staff and having a plan B for accommodation. It was about looking at your business support systems, checking they were resilient, and most importantly it was about understanding what you were insured for. The brilliance of the rebuilding effort could be pinned on a meticulously efficient contingency plan. Well-organised and executed security systems allowed the restoration process to flow smoothly and the city to steadily exceed its former prime.
Margot Christeller, former contractor to CERA, says building relationships stands you in good stead when disaster strikes. “You do have to be prepared but you don’t know what you have to be prepared for. It was the small teams who knew each other that were the most effective because they had already developed trust."
Mayor Dalziel also noted the way that people came together and executed positive solutions as neighbourhoods and local communities had built a really incredible sense of self-competence and faith in partnership. “There was no excuse not to know your neighbours after September 2010, and by February 2011 we were already well connected,” she said.
Many of the residents took great comfort and reassurance in seeing first-hand how present and involved were the teams in their individual situations during the early days of recovery. Communication was of huge importance to all responders, no matter where they were deployed, says former Regional Director, New Zealand at Aurecon Carl Devereux.
“We were sending our people to residents’ meetings to engage with them on a personal level and support them with advice on issues and concerns. Many of our people were residents themselves and the more we did that, the more we got an innate understanding of damage, risk and sentiments.”
By keeping an ear to the ground and tending to the needs of afflicted communities, considerable friction was mitigated in a time that was already tenuous at best.
Ultimately any city is about its people. The vibrancy and longevity of neighbourhoods and businesses hinge upon the degree to which its people give of themselves to ensure its success. Because of their long-standing investment and generational ties to Christchurch, its residents were simply not willing to wave the white flag over their inheritance. “Our citizens really proved their ‘can do’ attitude by picking up each other’s books and bricks. Good people came together and got on with it, and that’s why we are so advanced when it comes to dealing with a crisis of this magnitude,” says Mayor Dalziel.
Within the business arena the same principles applied. Peter Townsend witnessed the sacrifice that business owners were willing to make. “Your business is part of who you are. It is part of your soul, part of your family, part of your community, part of your social circle and definitely part of your commercial circle. People did almost anything they could to save their businesses — we saw people risking their lives to save their business.”
The Christchurch calamity proved a catalyst for world-class innovation. Many of the response systems and engagement tools had never been utilised within such limited timeframes or on such a mass scale before. These lessons learnt could make all the difference for others who’ve undergone a tremendous crisis, expediting the rate and quality of response to large-scale devastation.
“With our lessons learnt, we can add value to global conversations about disaster. What they may be struggling with is what we struggled with, but we have had some successes and, as good global citizens, we have a moral obligation to share and help others to recover from disaster,” says Dr Jan Kupec of Aurecon.