On September 4, 2010, at 4:35am, I was woken by a loud pop, followed very closely by extreme shaking of my house. As I listened to everything crashing and breaking around me, I quickly realized I was experiencing an earthquake of significant proportions. This natural disaster was the Canterbury Earthquake, registering at 7.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, and centered only 40 kilometres from my house located on the outskirts of Christchurch’s Central Business District (The CBD). The loud pop was the electricity going out in the city. Once the shaking stopped, I searched on the floor for my alarm clock/torch and began the long road to creating a disaster recovery plan.
By February 2011, things were finally beginning to feel like they could return to normal. I was starting to feel safe and confident again. On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, I was sitting at my desk at work in the CBD, when, at 12:51pm the earth began shaking severely again. We had been through several thousand aftershocks, but it was clear that this one was going to be a killer.
The power cut immediately. I could hear banging and smashing of display cabinets in our jewellery store. The force of this natural disaster was such that we had to stay seated, bounced and shaken like rag dolls on our chairs. I sat and prayed our building would not collapse on top of me, and when the earthquake stopped, we hurried down the stairs, clambered over the broken furniture and took off out into the street.
Life Changed Forever For The People of Christchurch, New Zealand
The scenes that greeted me in my beautiful CBD broke my heart. It was chaos and destruction and I knew that those of us who had survived have had their lives changed forever. The Christchurch Earthquake, at only 6.3 magnitude, was located close to the city. 181 lives were lost, along with nearly 1,000 buildings in the CBD. Beyond the CBD there are more buildings and houses damaged or destroyed, and the infrastructure is so severely damaged that the basics of life are now luxuries for nearly half of our population.
Whilst it will take years to repair the damage done to our utilities, streets, houses and buildings, there is also the social, mental and emotional recovery that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This is something that each individual can take responsibility for, and is not restricted to survivors of the Christchurch Earthquake, but also for survivors of the many other natural and man-made disasters which occur on our world.
Before I share with you what I believe are the solid basics of creating a natural disaster recovery plan, I will let you know that I am not a trained psychologist. I am a writer, with a keen interest in self-empowerment, who has lived through a series of life changing earthquakes. The information I will offer here, and in the series of follow-up articles, is based on life experience, a year of Psych 101, and very focused research. You can also follow my disaster recovery journey online at Cafe Reflections.
Ten Basics to Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan
It is easy for natural disaster survivors to spiral down into negative victim status. This was starting to happen to me, and whilst on one level I realised it was part of the natural recovery process, I didn’t like the person I was becoming. Humans are not built to deal with constant, unpredictable change on an ongoing basis, but in the aftermath of a natural disaster this is what we are faced with. We find it extremely discomforting. It is also stressful and exhausting as our physical, mental and emotional energy focuses on trying to deal with a life that no longer has any routine or normality about it.
The danger is that we feel so overwhelmed by this situation, that we allow ourselves to become disempowered. This is what was happening to me. I couldn’t focus on or think about the future, and it was becoming impossible to even make decisions about the most basic things. I was afraid to go out into the world, and I stopped caring about my appearance or interacting with others.
Three months on from the Christchurch earthquake, which stole my life from me, I came very close to having a breakdown. When I realised this, the first thing I did was let myself grieve for my old life. I suggest that you take time out and do the same. Then I began to think about what were the important steps I needed to take to recreate my life. These are the ten steps to becoming empowered, which I will share with you here.
- Be A Class Act.
- Dream. Visualize. Create A Goal.
- Know Yourself.
- Take Action.
- Be Committed & Focused.
- Avoid Distractions.
- Build A Positive & Like Minded Team.
- Celebrate Each Attempt Forward.
I invite you to follow along and apply them to your own natural disaster recovery plan. I would suggest that you use the 80/20 principle to achieve your recovery – that is, to put 80% of your focus on your own recovery, and 20% of your focus on supporting others to work on their recovery. After all, if you’ve ever flown, you will know that in an emergency, you apply your own oxygen mask first.
My hope is that anyone who has experienced any trauma relating to a natural or even a man-made disaster may find these ten steps helpful. The key thing to remember is that you are a survivor not a victim; you have your life and all that makes you the person you are. If you can find meaning by creating goals, and have the determination and attitude to rebuild your life, you can and will recover in time. No matter what resources you have lost from the devastating experience you had.