The Quake

As history uncurls her fingers from Christchurch, the stories of loss, survival, and the stupid blunt force of an indifferent planet emerge from the dust.  For those of us with friends and family in Christchurch, the test of our support is not of the past 6 days, but in the coming days, weeks, and months when the adrenaline will fade and the long slow and tedious task of re constructing lives will begin.

While the pain is individual and the stories unique to Christchurch the pattern is universal and the suffering is the same shared recently by communities around the world, from government murders in Egypt, deadly floods in Queensland, civil unrest in Libya, floods in Pakistan, droughts in China and Nth Korea, and bombs in Iraq, the list goes on.

With this in mind I’ve been impressed by the surprising humanizing role of technology in the last few weeks.  Most of the time these devices and interfaces that now consume our lives seem to take us away from the nature, loved ones, and things we really appreciate.  The frustrations to technologies that not only consume our working and relaxing hours, but are also increasingly providing mundane fodder for our conversations.  It is great then to see some truly mobilizing potential with these ubiquitous technologies.

  • Within hours of the Christchurch Earthquake google had worked with a number of organizations on a very effective missing persons interface Google Missing Person List.
  • Within days, Habitat for humanity had started a very easy to use website for both offering accommodation and finding help for places to stay at the Habitat Shelter Website.
  • A international group of volunteers called Crisescampnz has produced the beautifully designed massive collaboration site titled the Christchurch Recovery Map,
  • The Canterbury University Students Association showed the value of Student Unions with their fantastic Student Volunteer Army.

These are just four of the many responses to the Earthquake we’ve seen in the past week, they illustrate that these new technologies offer not only a speediness of set up and communication not previously possible, but also a radical repositioning of the role of the citizen.  These new technologies are becoming critical tools in what might as well be called the democracies we live in, and its a good reminder that democracy isn’t about voting every three years, its ability to engage with issues of governance as a free citizen.

Internationally we are seeing profound change in the middle east, and here too democratic forces and technology are meeting.  The global advocacy and activist group Avaaz has been enabling internet satellite into parts of Libya and Bahrain so that people there can keep up with important international news.  AVAAZ Satellite delivery. This fantastic sign from Egypt suggests we are seeing the growth of a global activist movement.  Egypt supporting America.

My last comment on the Christchurch earthquake is to realize the important work that has been going on in Nz for the past 50 years that has minimized the effects of last tuesday.  The force on buildings was TWICE what the building code asked for, so its impressive that so few collapsed.  In addition to this the rescue response sounds like it has been extraordinarily well co-ordinated given the desperate circumstances.  Brian Rudman of the Herald states

“as a small bunch of people, spread across a geologically challenged group of remote islands, we New Zealanders actually don’t do such a bad job of looking after ourselves.  Unknown to most of us, we do have structures on which to fall back in times of emergency – like Civil Defence, which had its origins after the Napier disaster and got a pat on the back from the head of the British urban rescue team, who said this was the best-organised rescue effort he’d attended, through which local communities have joined together to assist each other in moments of need.

So hats off to not just the men and women working on the ground, but to the 100’s of planner, bureaucrats and politicians who have prepared funds and expertise for disasters like this.  Here’s to long term planning, long may it continue.