Lessons and reflections from the Christchurch quake

Originally published in Newsweet - Newsletter of the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes (NZSSD) - Autumn 2011

As everyone in New Zealand knows, the Magnitude 6.3 quake that hit Christchurch at 12.51 on 22nd February devastated the city. When we immediately evacuated the Diabetes Centre building, most of us did not realise we were not going to be back in the building for another three weeks. Many of us had no transport home as our cars were inaccessible in a damaged car park building. For those that could make the journey, the journey home was long. Some of us could not however access our damaged homes and neighbourhoods. No-one was allowed into the Diabetes Centre and Society offices over the next cou-ple of days even to get out supplies. This reduced the availability of insulin, pens and meters in Christchurch, at a time when most pharmacies were closed or very low on stock. When the Diabetes building ‗opened‘ again, not all rooms were func-tional. Even now, patients and staff continue to work around builders and their noise and dust. We are however lucky. Many of our clinical colleagues in other specialities, including primary care, have no offices or are trying to work out of buildings that were not designed for clinical work.

Reflecting on events and what they have meant for us and for people with diabetes in Christchurch has been a healing proc-ess for us. We hope that you will never need this information, but if you do, we hope that sharing our own experiences will allow you to become better prepared.

Things the Civil Defence guidelines do not mention but that we learnt the hard way!

  • If you leave work with only the clothes you stand up and have to walk home, you may regret wearing those high heeled shoes. Have a pair of walking shoes at work (possibly in the ‘grab bag’ you now keep by your office door with water and a muesli bar in it).
  • Lock your filing cabinet drawers during the day – they are nasty things when they jump out at you in a quake.
  • Carry your cell phone with you (i.e. don’t leave it on your desk). This is especially important if you are no good at remembering phone numbers and all your emergency phone numbers are stored on the inaccessible cell phone.
  • Have as many contact numbers for colleagues, family and friends as possible and maybe even write these down on a piece of paper – your cell phone memory is not much good to you when you are borrowing someone else’s phone because you have a flat battery and no electricity to charge your cell phone!

What went well?

  • Pooling diabetes supplies and working with the Society (Diabetes NZ Christchurch), together with support from diabetes suppliers from around the country (thank you – you know who you are) allowed us to provide ‘free’ insulin, test strips and gadgets in the first few days after the quake. We think most patients were able to replenish supplies reasonably quickly.
  • Asking the Society to lobby on behalf of people with diabetes may have helped get an extension of free prescriptions, allowing people with spoilt insulin to replenish stocks free of charge.
  • We made seeing our patients for routine review a high priority. We had no way of contacting many patients, for example because mail was not being delivered in their area or because they no longer lived in their homes. We therefore had to ‘work around’ very high non attendance rates.