Don’t be scared, be prepared

I like science and I’m always interested in reading about some study revealing more about the history of the Alpine Fault or showing in detail what happened during the Kaikoura quake. These studies are interesting to science geeks like me, but they aren’t just for entertainment, they’re about assessing risks and preparing for them.

Six years after Christchurch’s most damaging quake and four months into Kaikoura’s post-quake phase, New Zealanders are a bit more aware of the need to prepare for all the natural disasters we face. There’s the Get Thru website, the Long or strong, get gone message being put out following the widespread confusion following the Kaikoura quake, and reports on what would happen if a volcano erupted in Auckland. Yes, scary stuff.

Sometimes people don’t want to hear about these things because they feel there’s no point, that natural disasters are unpredictable and there’s nothing you can do about them. But scientists and authorities aren’t trying to scare us, they’re trying to prepare us. Although we can’t avoid the natural disaster (except by moving somewhere where there are none), we can prepare for them. That’s what anchoring stuff to walls and emergency kits are all about: being prepared. If the worst doesn’t happen, that’s great, but if it does, isn’t it best to have what you and your family need right there, ready for you?

Another thing we can do is to document your property, so you have before and after pics to use when making your insurance claim. More on that in Is it historic? Or is it quake damage?

Is it historic? Or is it quake damage?

I have a relative whose house repair has been botched. Floors are uneven, doors have been shaved into non-rectangular shapes to make them fit into doorframes and there is still cracking in the brickwork. This is the family home, the one she raised her kids in. She’s a grandmother now, so that will give you some idea of how long she’s been in this house. She knows what it was like before the quakes and her repair hasn’t brought it even close to that pre-earthquake state, much less to the as new condition stipulated in her insurance policy. She has complained to EQC, but the response has been that her damage is all “historic”.

I’ve heard that word too much in the last 6+ years. The EQC and insurers are big fans of it. What’s historic and what’s not is difficult to determine in older houses, but too often the homeowner is left with earthquake damage that they can’t get repaired without getting a lawyer involved. EQC and insurers just dig their toes in, insisting that you, the homeowner, prove that it was quake damage. But how do you do that if your only evidence is your recall of how the house was? Dig through all the family photos and hope someone caught a shot of the living room door showing that it didn’t have a bowed lower edge?

My husband and I fell foul of this with the cracked slab of our garage. It was put down as historic in the report the insurer’s engineer submitted, but our own engineer said it was quake damage, going by floor level readings and continuity with an acknowledged quake damage crack outside the garage. We didn’t want to get into the battle of the engineers, but we had no evidence to show that this crack wasn’t there before the quakes. In the course of picking our battles, we decided to let this one go.

But we learned from that experience, and whenever we move into a new property, we’ll be doing a thorough photographic record of the state of the place, floor to ceiling, inside and out. When my in-laws moved into a new place a couple of years ago, we had them take photos, not just a photo per room, but detailed photos that showed the condition of the interior and exterior, the foundations, walls, skirting boards, ceilings. If I ever have to go through this post-earthquake claim process again, at least I’ll know I’ve done all I can do avoid hearing the dreaded “historic”.