Who are we and why are we doing this?

Who

We are Parklands based flatmates, Me (Anna-Maria Covich) and Carolyn Hodgen, assisted by any friends and volunteers we can rope in to help. Anyone can be a superhero, they just have to step up and do it. Superheroes don’t stand buy and think “someone should do something about this” they decide to be ‘Someone’ and do it themselves.

I have a background in administration, operations management, and service delivery management, while Carolyn hails from the worlds of hospitality, administration, and customer service.  We operate out of our home in Parklands. When I’m not being a Super awesome superhero, I am job hunting and running a home business. Carolyn works part time in hospitality and full time as a mother to her 2 children (Bertie and Matilda).

Why

Super short version:

We saw a gap that was going to get bigger, so we did what we could to patch it up before it grew.

Long and rambly version:

I worked in the welfare team at the EOC (emergency operations centre – the hub from which Civil defence, local government and various NGOs operate) after the February 2011 quake, and I was aware that a lot of the needs of people weren’t filtering through to me so I could fill them. It was frustrating to me to not be able to match up resources available and offers for help with the calls for help that I knew weren’t being heard. I remember my own experience in the quake, and that of the people around me, and how important those community helping community efforts were.

Thinking back to 2011 there was a major disconnect between what I saw when I was at home on the East side, or driving home through the hard hit areas of Wainoni or Aranui, or at the Aranui welfare centre, or talking to people in my community, compared to what I heard in the EOC through the the CCC, Red Cross requests and Operation suburbs response forms. Some of the lack of response was deliberate, in that we had to prioritise our efforts in the early days and knew that people who had good community links would be taken care of by the community, but a lot of that disconnect was caused by making the system too hard to use. Having to wait an hour at the welfare centre to be told that there was no food there, or the service that the person needed was only at the welfare centre across town meant that people often gave up before they could ask for what they needed or offer services or goods. I watched NSW Police offices, with head mounted torches to give away, get so frustrated with the welfare centre staff not helping that they just stood in the middle of the welfare centre’s main hall and called to the crowd to put their hands up it they had a baby under 1 year old and would like a torch. When I tried to offer menstrual products for distribution I was met with similar stone walling (they couldn’t even tell me where the local food and water distribution centre was). Eventually I was able to find someone from a local community group who was able to help me find a distribution centre despite the official Civil Defence effort.

While all supplies being sent to Kaikoura do seem to have been reaching people who need them (it’s very hard to tell from down here), it certainly appeared that not everyone needing supplies have been able to access them. I suspect there have been major problems with information and communication again, like we had in the East Side in 2011, as well as in distribution. Unlike in CHCH, the community groups sending food couldn’t just drive into Kaikoura and ask “where should we take this? Who was hardest hit?” or sit on the side of the road handing out bunches of bananas to people walking by, instead we’re relying on CD/RC/KDC etc to make sure it gets to the right places. I have heard locals complaining that the supplies weren’t reaching them, but I don’t know where the breakdown was happening or why. I do know that we had a similar problem in the EOC here too; we were sending out food to anyone who said they needed it, but we didn’t necessarily know that they were asking for it. A lot of hungry people were missing out on a lot of food that was sitting in storage at the Art gallery. I suspect that similar things have happened this time too. There needs to be a better way of doing it.

Because business process design and analysis is my thing, as soon as we evacuated our home at 1am on November 14th I started pondering how I would have run the Welfare centre, distribution points, and Welfare Centre registration differently to make it easier for people both offering and asking for assistance. My website is a slight variation on what I came up with during that ‘driving around pondering’. It’s not an ideal solution, thrown together in an afternoon from existing bits and pieces I had lyign around, and it definitely has a lot of flaws to be ironed out. One obvious problem is that it is web based, and I know that most of the people in the Eastern Suburbs in 2011, or Kaikoura this year, had no access to the internet for a number of days during that vital initial time. It is intended to operate both through direct registration and through manual entry at our end of “rumour mill” reports of a need for assistance through any channel necessary. Mostly it collects offers from people in unaffected areas, while we go actively looking for requests on social media, but now that services are returning we are getting more direct registrations from people asking for assistance.

How

The evening after the Cheviot/Kaikoura quake, Carolyn suggested that we should do something to help. The following morning she saw that Miss Lilly’s Catering was organising food collections to go up to Kaikoura, so we put a call out to our social media networks to bring food here so we could take it up to her. We then hooked up with the Eastside group who were operating from Bin Inn’s back room and adjacent arcade, as this was a more efficient method of sending collections to Rangiora than driving my sedan our to Rangiora every few days.

I knew pretty early on that once Civil Defence were able to get people out of Kaikoura they’d be trying to get as many people out of town as they could, and that these people would need somewhere to stay. I saw a number of people asking about hosting evacuees, and making other offers of support and I thought “someone needs to collect these offers so they can be passed on when the time come”. Instead of waiting for another someone to do it I decided to be “someone” and threw together a webpage using an existing blog site that I’d set up but not yet used, and some survey software, and started taking names. The name of our ‘group’ came from an domain name (which was a relic of my Masters thesis research).

I reached out to the emergency response authorities to ask them if there was already a collection point for these offers and they responded that they were only addressing the immediate need. I offered to do it for them (because it’s the sort of thing I’m good at) but they weren’t interested in that either, one person from the Red Cross even went so far as telling me not to do it at all! I said I was doing it anyway, and WHEN they needed my help, here was how to find me. Other organisations were very receptive – the SPCA were especially happy to know that we had so many offers for places where pets could stay with their people. The welfare team at the EOC eventually found me and got in touch to ask for my help.

Many ‘Official Emergency Response’ organisations have been less than receptive. I had one (I won’t name them because the staff member may not have been correct or authorised to say it) say “We don’t need that kind of help. It’s being taken care of by Civil Defence” (which is true to a point but very short sighted) and another say something to the effect of “that’s not our problem”, a third said “You don’t owe us anything, stop trying to help”, which I think misses the point somewhat. It left me feeling rather frustrated, but I’m stubborn, and doing something to help is helpful for those of us who were badly affected by the 2010 and 2011 quakes, so I persisted. Now as requests are starting to flood in, it looks like we are needed after all.

 What

We’re watching social media constantly, as well as requests coming in on this website, and reaching out to various organisations to gather information. Mostly what we’re trying to be is a hub for information – people go to twitter or facebook to ask for help or information, if we see it we can reach out and either help them ourselves (sending information, or just addressing their request) or we will send the request to one of the other groups we work with who are better equipped (such as Federated Farmers, Help for the Homeless, or the EOC Welfare team).

The things we’re doing change on a daily basis, as the situation and people’s needs have changed. We been collected food for distribution through various channels. initially it was collecting baking, then non-perishable foods, then cleaning products. We’ve liaised with different groups travelling to the various affected towns and isolated areas by car, 4wd or aircraft, passing on those goods. we’ve sourced specific items requested (e.g. solar showers for isolated farms and Goose bay, and around 100 banana boxes for transporting food and supplies by plane, and a small collection of plates and kitchen implements). We’ve been collecting details of free accommodation available, as well as clothing and toys for evacuees. We’ve picked up a few balls that the official groups have dropped (such as vital medical supplies that needed to be delivered to Oaro from Waimate that Civil Defence did not consider essential enough to assist with), and alerted them spots they’ve missed (e.g. advising them that the civil defence post in Hapuku was not operating, or giving them details of residents in Kaikoura who had not met with the Red Cross well after every home was supposed to have been visited). We’ve been a sympathetic and understanding ear in the middle of the night to people feeling stressed, trapped and alone. We’ve made people laugh, we’ve sent them to the movies, we’ve arranged for them to have a massage and take a yoga class, we’ve given them a cup of coffee at a cafe or dinner at a restaurant, we’ve found them places to stay, we’ve acted as a freight intermediary to get parcels into the daily convoys. We’ve asked them what food they wanted delivered and spread the word to those who were able to make that happen, including buying a trolley load of lettuces and chickens to be taken up. We’ve helped evacuees relax and sourced items they needed to start again. … we’ve given them what they said they needed.

I had hoped to also provide a laundry shuttle service, so we could get people clean clothes, but now it looks like water and sewerage will be fully restored before the roads are reliable enough, so it won’t be needed.

We’re willing to help with any kind of reasonable request (I will not source drugs, for example, but if we’re told that the 80 year old grandma in X town needs help cleaning up and replacing her broken china, we’ll find the people to make that happen). We’re now moving into the post evacuation stage, which will mean matching up people who need a few days of respite with hosts and recreational activities available, collecting and supplying food, bedding and care packages to hosts and guests where needed, connecting people with other services they might need here, such as advocacy services for getting help with WINZ.

My main goal here is to make things as easy as possible for the people requesting help. They are tired and stressed, so having to filter through offers of accommodation to find one that will suit their family can be hard work and off putting. I can do the work and provide a few suggestions of just those that fit their requirements before coordinating with the host to set it all up. That way all they have to do is tell me what they need (maybe answer a few more questions if I need clarification), pick one from a short list (or even let me do that) and show up.

We have had a lot of offers of support and requests for assistance but we still need to get the word out. Not having the information collected publicly available (and keeping personal information to a minimum) means that those signing up know that we will deal with their request or offer with discretion.

I don’t know how many requests will come in, or how long this service will be needed, but I will be continuing the service for as long as I am able to offer help and people want to use it. I know that for me, by the time I needed a break, and could get away, most of the offers for free accommodation had dried up and I didn’t qualify for a travel grant, so I couldn’t afford it. I don’t want anyone affected by this quake (in North Canterbury, Kaikoura, or right through to Wellington) to be in that same position.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

28 − = 27