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Saturday, 2 July 2011

NZ Red Cross - two new winter assistance grants

The NZ Red Cross announced two new winter grants yesterday.

The first is for those with school age children (5 to 18 years) and the second for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The grants are designed to help those eligible to get back on their feet financially. The grants are in the form of electricity heating subsidies.

More information, eligibility criteria, and application forms are available from these web pages:
  • Winter Assistance Grant for school aged children - here
  • Winter Assistance Grant for pre-existing medical conditions - here
A Winter Assistance for Under 5s Grant is already in existence and information is here, and a list of the whole range of NZ Red Cross grants is available here.

Friday, 1 July 2011

NZ Red Cross - The first 100 days

The NZ Red Cross have released a report outlining its response in the first 100 days following February 22nd. Yesterday's media release (here as a Word document) includes the following:
First 100 days provides insight into what New Zealand Red Cross did during the initial response, in the aftermath and its future recovery plans to support those affected.
"Red Cross response teams swung into action and were on the ground within hours, and now almost five months later we are still very active in Christchurch because our support is a long-term commitment," Mr Ware said.
"Our response to Christchurch has been the largest since we became a national society 80 years ago, it could be a once in hundred year event and it has been defining for us all. The First 100 days report is the story of that response."
First 100 days outlines Red Cross' immediate actions, the opening of the Appeal, the appointing of the Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Commission, how funding from donations has been allocated and the Red Cross phases of recovery. It also features personal stories from recipients, community fundraising activities, corporate donors and volunteers.
The 8 page report, in PDF format, can be downloaded here.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mayor Bob Parker and insurance - worse than no help at all?

In his personal statement to the city yesterday (here), in the context of Christchurch being without insurance cover from the 1st of July, the mayor ends with the following:
"I've been out and about at community meetings organised by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority this week and insurance cover has been one of the most frequently raised issues. Homeowners are concerned that even though their homes are in the red zones, if insurance companies deem that their house can be repaired then the reimbursement they are being offered is the cost of those repairs. Individual property owners will be taking this up with their insurers, just as we as a Council are also try to get the best possible insurance outcome for our ratepayers."
What a fine thing, council and citizens fighting against problems with insurers. Not quite the same though.

The council, a large team with professional support, are seeking to arrange insurance for the future. So far there have been no problems with claims on existing policies. If some do arise the council has the resources and money, our money, to ensure strong advocacy in their own cause. Individual property owners, pretty much on their own, are dealing with problems arising from claims on exisiting policies in extremely difficult circumstances. They have no support, no one to advocate for them unless they can afford the cost of legal assistance. For many this process would take too long, and cost too much both financially and emotionally. To the delight of their insurance company they will just wilt, acquiesce and fade quietly away.

The issue of advocacy support in dealing with insurance companies arose months ago, and was quite topical in January and February (see blog items here and here). Basically the mayor felt there was no need to have an advocacy service to support homeowners in disputes with insurance companies, the companies had put sufficient processes in place. He was off to Wellington to impress on the Ombudsmen that an advocacy service was not needed.

Now that critically important issues are arising from insurance company responses to the "Red Zone" concept, property owners are facing the prospect of challenging insurance company policy interpretations in a very unequal contest. What a difference an advocacy service would make.

Did the mayor in effect sabotage the opportunity for advocacy? Could he have made a positive difference, had he supported and promoted advocacy? Has he helped put many people into a desperate, lonely, and soul destroying position?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Answers to critical questions about buildings in Christchurch

The Royal Society of New Zealand have published an information paper on earthquake engineering in Christchurch entitled: THE CANTERBURY EARTHQUAKES: Answers to critical questions about buildings.

Here are the introductory comments from the Royal Society's website:
This information paper reports on earthquake damage to buildings in Christchurch from the 4 September earthquake, and its associated aftershocks, and what this means for building design in the future. The paper brings together the science and engineering expertise of several organisations – the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand, the Structural Engineering Society New Zealand, the New Zealand Geotechnical Society and the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering.
It provides answers to critical questions such as ‘What is an earthquake prone building?’, ‘Why did buildings collapse in these earthquakes?’, and ‘Given that a building has been through one earthquake, how do we know how much of its “earthquake life” has been used up?’
The paper looks to answer questions related to the expected performance of buildings during earthquakes as well as their actual behaviour in Christchurch.
The contributing organisations hope it will also provide better public understanding about designing buildings to resist earthquakes, and the new lessons to be learnt following the Canterbury earthquakes.
The paper is a reasonable read, only 12 pages long, and the use of photographs and maps clarifies some of the technical points. The section headings are:
  • What are the functions and forms of buildings?
  • What controls building design and construction? 
  • How are buildings made earthquake resistant?
  • How do earthquakes damage buildings?
  • How is the minimum earthquake shaking level for building designs set? 
  • For what level of shaking are buildings currently designed?
  • What is an earthquake prone building?
  • If some buildings were earthquake prone, why were they not retrofitted?
  • Why did buildings collapse in these earthquakes?
  • What types of damage occurred to Christchurch buildings?
  • What is building safety evaluation?
  • Given that a building has been through one earthquake, how do we know how much of its “earthquake life” has been used up?
  • Are earthquake design codes likely to change as a result of this earthquake sequence?
  • Is all masonry susceptible to damage or collapse in large shaking?
  • Is there room for improving building safety?
  • What are some of the new lessons from the earthquake sequence?
  • What are some low cost methods of improving earthquake safety?

You can read their media release, and download a copy of the paper, from here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mayor Bob Parker and the availability of sections - not much help?

When the land package was announced, the mayor was quick to pronounce there was sufficient land available within the city for those who wanted to rebuild. If you missed that, here is an excerpt from a report in the Christchurch Star:
“Following the Government’s announcement yesterday on land damage in Christchurch, there has been much comment about whether we have enough property to satisfy people looking to move from the red zone to other parts of the city. And the answer is yes,” Mr Parker says.
He later qualifies the statement by saying these sections are a mixture of what is presently available and those that will become available. The article is here.

Nowhere was there evidence that he understood the feasibility, or otherwise, of his statement. The average value of sections in the Avon Red Zone is tens of thousands of dollars below the cost of new sections. Added to that is the hidden indirect cost for many families of having to buy smaller sections in sterile underdeveloped subdivisions as an inadequate substitute for what has been lost.

To purchase the sections will require many to increase their mortgage, assuming more mortgage monies and suitable paid employment are available. No one wants to increase their personal debt, and employment is a scarce commodity, especially the type that allows a family to support high debt.

The mayor did not mention this and the nearest he came to an economic analysis, if the Press article is anything to go by, is some free market babble:
Sellars told Radio New Zealand the law of supply and demand suggested that property prices could be pushed up in the region but Parker was doubtful that would be the case.
"The market will actually move to deliver outcomes that work for people," he said.
"There's a huge opportunity here and there will be some competition as different elements in the market move to capture that."
What the hell does that mean? Sounds like a parrot quoting from a Readers Digest book on new-right business jargon.

Roger Sutton was more realistic last night when addressing a meeting of residents. From the report in this morning's Press:
A "common theme" from the meetings was that many properties in the red zone, where land cannot be rebuilt on, had a rateable value under $100,000.
"There's very little land on the market for those prices at the moment," Sutton said. "We have to move as quickly as possible to give an assurance that there is actually going to be land and house packages, or at least land packages, to begin with, at prices you feel you can afford."
Potentially more sensible, from a purely monetary point of view, although what "at prices you feel you can afford" means remains to be seen. Also no mention of the potential quality of life in these places. The Press article is here.

Surely the mayor can show more leadership and initiative on this, or has he succumbed to the Peter Principle? If Roger Sutton and CERA have to take the lead on this why bother having a mayor?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Avon River Park

There is a facebook page called Avon River Park calling for support from those interested in the recreational possibilities for the land soon to be abandoned (thanks for the tip Fiona). The facebook page is here.

Not wishing to rain on someone else's parade, it is unlikely the abandoned areas will become recreational land. The government has clearly said it is keeping ownership with a view to the land being remediated and redeveloped some time in the future. The payout package for the land is a large cost to the government, and they will not want to pass up an opportunity to get their money back. The nature of the redevelopment is unknown, but rumour has it that interest has already been shown from overseas.

Of course some other political party may feel driven to promise to protect the land from foreign ownership, and maybe even keep some or all of it as reserve land to compensate for that taken for new subdivisions. Maybe the new subdivisions could be levied for reserve purposes to compensate for the lost green space. CERA could cooperate with the council on this.

If you do have strong feelings about this speak with your local MP, or the political party you support. Whatever you do to support this idea please remember that the land is still home to many families, a large number of whom are grieving about having to be removed.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

EQC updates on CERA, the Red and the Orange Zones

EQC have produced a FAQ explaining what is happening to those in the Red and Orange Zones available here. There is also a brief FAQ on land remediation here.

EQC and the iPad

Yesterday we had our full EQC assessment. According to the EQC website Red Zone assessments are the highest priority, followed by us Orangers, which explains the increase in activity in the area.

Peter (from near Newcastle in NSW) and Neil (from Auckland) arrived spot on time. Both were very good at their respective jobs. It felt more like having a couple of amiable blokes from down the road helping out than anything else. The process took around three hours and it was a very positive experience. In the end we may not fully agree with the scope of works arising from the assessment, but have no qualms about the way it was done, or the competence of the two who did the work.

This was our second assessment and there was one very notable operational difference: the iPad. Each of them had an iPad and, as the assessment progressed, they were filling out forms and making notes on their iPads. The machines, in turn, were sending the information back to home base.

What a brilliant idea! No paper notes to be lost, as happened with previous assessments in our area, and no need for the extra error prone step of someone entering data. Until yesterday the iPad seemed nothing more than an expensive toy. Having seen it in action in the field it is clear it does have its serious applications.  I also feel more confident that the EQC assessment process is scaling up to the size of the problem. Thank you to the EQC person who came up with the idea.