If the ground shakes or heavens open up - are we ready for the fallout?

A Role of Spirituality Disasters Conference being held in Hawke's Bay this week is about preparing to face "the good, the bad and the ugly".

In the event, which finishes tomorrow, a series of speakers including those shaken to the core by quakes in Canterbury addressed clergy from throughout New Zealand. They were brought together by Hawke's Bay District Health Board's chaplaincy with the aim of establishing guidelines on how to better cope with the possibility of disaster.

In February 2008, Victoria Matthews was elected Bishop of Christchurch's Anglican Church - two years later she found herself in a broken city, helping to piece its shattered fragments back together - while her own life was in disarray.

Advertisement

"I'm Canadian, I had never even experienced an earthquake ... I was not prepared," Bishop Matthews said.

She quickly learned the value of little practicalities such as ensuring the car always had enough petrol, stashing a small amount of cash somewhere safe and keeping phones and tablets fully charged. There were many other lessons that came from experience. People were forced to make arrangements and have discussions about how to notify family if disaster struck again.

The mantra of Christchurch people became "better safe than sorry" - a stance the rest of New Zealand could benefit from following. "We used to think 'it won't happen to us' now we think 'if it's going to happen, it's going to happen to us,'" she said. "If there's going to be heavy snowfall, first sign of snow we send people home."

They are masters of thinking the worst and having a back-up plan - a "space blanket" in the cupboard, knowing how many people live next door, topping up water supplies. Three days after the ground shook, more than 700 male prisoners were "decanted" from Christchurch Men's Prison which lost power, phone lines and had interrupted food supply.

They were sent north, south, east and west in Hercules transport planes, wherever there was a spare cell to accommodate them.

Co-ordinating Chaplain at Christchurch Men's Prison Maurice McLaughlin said: "The men were pretty scared and angry the decision was made that 'you're going, but we don't know where you're going' ... as a chaplain I was able to say 'it's only for a short while, it's going to be okay'."

Three hundred prisoners left behind were living in self- contained, one-storey huts - and had priority given to phone calls, mail delivery and visits during that time of uncertainty. Parts of the complex remained empty for six months.

Reverend McLaughlin wanted to remind those gathered for the conference they already had tools to cope with tragedy - it was simply a matter of accessing them. "Some of the speakers here have got the bumps and bruises as reminders ... the pastors, the chaplains, the ministers and priests they have to be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly."

Advertisement

Christchurch Police chaplain Mark Barlow remembers computers jumping off desks, books falling from shelves and people gathering "stunned" in the streets on September 4, 2010.

Walking home down the centre of the road, grey sludge bubbling up around his ankles, there was a sense of uncertainty about what would greet him at the end of a long walk. Fortunately his house was not damaged but it was a different story in the city centre where police kicked into action, taking control, directing traffic and protecting others.

"Those people are expected to be at the front line, reassuring the public but they have got busted houses, and children at home having nightmares. I was meant to be there three months it ended up being two-and-a-half years."

Effects were long-lasting and had resurfaced during a recent four-year anniversary of the earthquake, which served as a harsh reminder no one was invincible.