In bad taste

The death toll from Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch stands at 146, with at least 200 missing, according to a summary posted at

(Stuff is the web portal of newspapers owned by Fairfax Media, my employer.)

It’s likely that 122 of the 200 listed missing are inside the Canterbury Television (CTV) building, with another 22 in what’s left of Christchurch Cathedral.

It’s also fairly apparent that the chances of finding people alive under all that rubble diminishes by the minute. This makes the following item from Sunday’s New Zealand Herald (also reported in Stuff) of particular poor taste.

10.35am: There are reports that people have been sending hoax text messages claiming to be stuck under buildings. St John received a text on Friday reading, “Help me, I’m alive. I am trapped inside the CTV building. Please come fast I can’t breathe.” Police and Urban Search and Rescue teams were called, but they later found the cry for help to be a fraud.

This is terrible. I guess we’re supposed to assume  that the “St. John” referred to here  is the private, volunteer ambulance corps by that name. But, no. This is New Zealand, where this kind of journalistic nonchalance reflects a widespread linguistic ambiguity that can be observed in everything from insufficient traffic signage to “No worries, mate,” the kiwi’s answer to everything. It’s understandable that papers here would assume everybody knows what St. John’s is, considering the size of the country.

Oh, and the prankster(s) in question? Thanks. That was extremely constructive. I’m sure the rescue workers digging through the CTV building just loved to be jerked around like that.

Next time you want to prank someone, try being a little more useful.

Ready for Anything

The government seems to know something that we don’t. Television stations have been running public service addresses telling us to always be prepared for an emergency.

New Zealand's Civil Defense preparedness logo.

The PSAs don’t go into specifics but they do state that New Zealanders should stock up on supplies to last us at least three days in the event of a disaster, natural or manmade.

Dress up your next earthquake, super storm, flood, tsunami, volcanic eruption or landslide with an eye-catching graphic.

According to the local Emergency Management Group’s Website:

The Auckland region will experience natural and man-made disasters, such as power and water failure, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in the future.

“How do they know?” Jacquie said. “Do they have a Magic Eight Ball? What a bunch of pessimists.”

“Fear mongers is more like it,” I said. “Still, all this talk of disasters has me thinking. What does our disaster preparation look like at this juncture?”

We ran to our pantry to inventory our supplies.

Running down our list, we had: beans, check; beans, check; beans, check; toilet paper, check; torch (or flashlight), check; 720 ml of Rose's Lemon Fruit Cordial (superior refreshing taste), check; and beans, check.

“That’s barely enough for breakfast,” I said.

“True,” Jacquie said. “But you wouldn’t need much more than that to evacuate.”

“Still, we should review our disaster planning to see where we can improve.”

Luckily, the government prints a number of pamphlets for people in different circumstances to consult when preparing for disasters.

The pamphlets proved less than helpful in our case.

We decided it would still be a good idea to follow the government’s advice and develop an action plan for what we would do in the event of an emergency, as well as build up our stock of emergency supplies.

If anything bad happened, we would go to the nearest evacuation assembly area. I happened to know from past observation that ours was in the parking lot of the local supermarket.

It didn't seem wise to designate the parking lot of a supermarket as an evacuation assembly area. But then I thought, in an emergency situation people would already be rushing to the supermarket in a panic to stock up on beans, toilet paper and lemon water. So everybody would be there anyway.

We developed an action plan and conducted a drill. For our scenario, we imagined our neighbors’ very existence had become intolerably, if not dangerously, obnoxious, thus forcing us to flee our beloved flat, an extremely realistic simulation.

We ran to the supermarket and assembled at the evacuation area in the parking lot. Jacquie lay down and pretended to be injured. I sat beside her and pretended to give a shit.

Soon, a supermarket manager asked us what we were doing. I explained that we were conducting a civil defense drill.

“This area isn’t an official evacuation area,” the manager said. “This is where people inside the supermarket go in case of an emergency.”

“Well, that sure put a hole in the premise of our evacuation plans,” I said. “Thanks a lot.”

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who always takes swigs of wine in the aisle before putting the wine bottles back on the shelf?”

“Yeah, so?”

Jacquie and I decided at that moment that we no longer wished to give this supermarket our  custom and we precipitously exited the parking lot. But we still needed to go shopping to expand and improve on our emergency supplies. Luckily we found another shop to suit our needs.

That's better.