Moroney: Quake response needs shake up


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Roger Moroney is an award-winning journalist for Hawke's Bay Today and observer of the slightly off-centre.

Pesky varmint earth tremors.

There I was, reading the paper, sipping on the old green tea and a big truck decides to do a detour through the heart of suburbia ... or so I thought.

There was a sort of distant deep sonic rumble so I looked out the window to see if it was a Mack or a Kenworth or a Scania.

It was none of the above of course.

It was a much older model of ground-shaker - a Tectonic, of uncertain model but certain in its performance.

The cups on the cup-holder thing chinked and clattered and the timbered joints of the house squeaked and protested ... sort of like me really.

It was the second earthquake in a few days, and of course like 90 per cent of the Hawke's Bay populace who felt the things rumble under them I gave it the usual reactionary response.

I sat there wondering "what the hell?"

Barely a month earlier there had been a nationwide "awareness" exercise that reinforced the stop, drop, rock and roll message.

It was a valuable exercise in that it united the residents of this often unstable land into one massed unit ... heading for the sanctuary under their desks or counters or anything with a protective surface that would keep errant pieces of ceiling from hitting them on the scone.

Yes, at the affirmed time workplaces and schools and departments and businesses of all descriptions announced that it was time to "stop and drop".

And people did, which is a good thing, because in the event of the real thing one needs to know how to react.

In Napier, people were advised by the sounding of the sirens.

In many workplaces they set off the alarms briefly to signal it was time to do what you had been taught.

And so, what did I do when the house started to do the liquefaction limbo last Wednesday?

I sat there wondering "what the hell?"

As it rocked I got up and walked calmly and nonchalantly into the kitchen, before deciding it would be poor form to open a beer (for medicinal and calming purposes you understand) before the clock struck 11.

So I looked out the window to see how the neighbour's TV aerial and chimney were handling it.

At no stage did I consider getting under the table.

And I am very, very sure that I was not alone.

Because the thing is, when you know the siren will sound or the alarm will toot to signal that the "stop, mop, lock and load" exercise is taking place, you are prepared for it, and willing to keep the management happy by obliging.

But when the real McCoy comes a-thunderin' along all preparation goes out the window.

During the past couple of 'quakes I heard about people making for the nearest door ... not the much-vaunted sanctuary of the nearest desk or table.

For the average person the steps when Mr Seismic Surprise stops in for a visit are thus.

When it starts, you sit there and turn to someone and breathlessly declare "earthquake!"

You then ask yourself "I wonder how much worse it's going to get?"

You sit very still and wait for that question to be answered.

If it gives a couple of violent like jolts you say "whoa, that's pretty bad".

When it starts to ease off you bravely declare "I didn't think it was going to do too much".

And then you look up at the lights all swinging gaily from their cords.

Then you ring someone and ask "did you feel the earthquake?"

And all the while, the carpet or paving or linoleum under the nearby table just lies there sad and lonely.

This is, of course, human nature, and it is a tough nut to crack.

I figure the only ones who carried out the protection procedure in great numbers last week were little kids in school ... because their "management" were on hand to tell them to do so.

We are an odd creature.

We agree that something is probably the best for us and carry it out in exercises, but when confronted by the real thing it all goes out the door ... like half of us.

And another thing. How many people went to their radios to listen for any possible tsunami warning after-effects? I think I can count you all on the legs of one table.

If last week's shakes were an examination of where we have evolved to in turns of reaction then I daresay the headmaster would be moved to note "can do better".

- Hawkes Bay Today

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