The management of portable toilets in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch after the February 22, 2011 earthquake

The management of portable toilets in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch after the February 22, 2011 earthquake

Regan Potangaroa, Suzanne Wilkinson, Zare, M., & Steinfort, P.

Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 2011, 2 (Special Issue – A Focus on the Canterbury Earthquakes), 39-48.

Abstract

The extent of liquefaction in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch (Aranui, Bexley, Avonside, Avonhead and Dallington) from the February 22 2011 Earthquake resulted in extensive damage to in-ground waste water pipe systems. This caused a huge demand for portable toilets (or port-a-loos) and companies were importing them from outside Canterbury and in some instances from Australia. However, because they were deemed “assets of importance” under legislation, their allocation had to be coordinated by Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM). Consequently, companies supplying them had to ignore requests from residents, businesses and rest homes; and commitments to large events outside of the city such as the Hamilton 400 V8 Supercars and the Pasifika Festival in Auckland were impacted. Frustrations started to show as neighbourhoods questioned the equity of the port-a-loos distribution. The Prime Minister was reported as reassuring citizens in the eastern suburbs in the first week of March that1 “a report about the distribution of port-a-loos and chemical toilets shows allocation has been fair. Key said he has asked Civil Defence about the distribution process and where the toilets been sent. He said there aren’t enough for the scale of the event but that is quickly being rectified and the need for toilets is being reassessed all the time.” Nonetheless, there still remained a deep sense of frustration and exclusion over the equity of the port-a-loos distribution. This study took the simple approach of mapping where those port-a-loos were on 11-12 March for several areas in the eastern suburbs and this suggested that their distribution was not equitable and was not well done. It reviews the predictive tools available for estimating damage to waste water pipes and asks the question could this situation have been better planned so that pot-a-loo locations could have been better prioritised? And finally it reviews the integral roles of communication and monitoring as part of disaster management strategy. The impression from this study is that other New Zealand urban centres could or would also be at risk and that work is need to developed more rational management approaches for disaster planning.

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