What you need to know if an earthquake happens and you live or work in a high rise building
Our beautiful region can be a little wild, with floods, earthquakes, tsunami and landslides among the potential hazards which can cause a major emergency. The impact of these hazards may include damage to our buildings, transport and communication infrastructure, as well as risk to the safety of people, property and animals.
People who live or work in high rise buildings face unique challenges during an earthquake. Many high rise buildings are located in the Wellington CBD or in areas that are vulnerable to multiple hazards which may result in you needing to make a quick decision about evacuating. Even if the surrounding location is safe, prolonged loss of utilities (power, gas, water) or unsafe buildings nearby may mean you need to leave for an extended period of time.
Before an Earthquake
Storage space in high rise buildings is often at a premium, so get creative with how you store your emergency supplies. The back of your pantry, in closets, under your bed or behind your couch are all good options.
A tip for storing your emergency supplies is to keep them in square containers which makes for easier stacking and takes up less room.
It’s always good to have two sets of emergency supplies stored in your apartment. An essential set of supplies for when you have to evacuate quickly for an extended period of time, and another for if you are able to return and/or stay in your building.
For an event where you have to leave your building for an extended period of time, keep a grab and go bag handy. This bag should include some items that will help you get out and stay out until it’s safe to return. We encourage you to think about the things you might need to take with you should you have to leave your building in a hurry (e.g. a jacket, medication, personal documents, cash, torch, etc).
It is also a good idea to store some emergency supplies at a family or friend’s house, nearby in the region. This way, if you are unable to return back to your building you will still be able to access some of your emergency supplies.
We realise some people who live or work in high rise buildings might have to return to live in their building after an earthquake. We recommend you store enough water, food and emergency supplies to last you 7 days.
We also recommend you store 20L of water per person per day for 7 days. We realise that this is a lot of water to store in smaller apartments. The World Health Organisation states that for basic survival we require 3L of water per day, so storing 21L of water per person in your apartment would be enough to help you through the first week after an emergency.
To save space in your apartment, use the food in your pantry as your emergency food supply. Try to keep it as well stocked as you can.
International research suggests that some of the essential items for apartment dwellers to store are a; multi-tool, can opener, duct tape, water filters, torch, battery powered radio, first aid kit and a portable power bank. These items don’t take up much room and are useful following an event.
Most of the injuries following large earthquakes occur from falling, unsecured furniture. If you are renting and uncertain if you are allowed to secure large items to your walls, talk to your landlord first to see if you can come to an agreement about securing heavy items.
If you cannot secure furniture to the walls, make sure you place your larger, heavier items on the bottom shelves.
Blu-Tack can be used to secure smaller items as well as 3M strips for lighter furniture.
Most people are rescued by those who are there at the time of an earthquake. Your neighbours are your first source of support and it is important to connect with them now rather than later.
Here are some ways that you could get to know them:
- Start small, start by saying "Hi!"
- Host a potluck, a picnic, or a BBQ for people on your floor or building
- Organise an apartment resident’s association group
- Use events like Neighbour’s Week as an ice breaker to meet your neighbours and discuss emergency preparedness
- Start a building Facebook Group
- Host a floor or building party. Use this step-by-step party planning guide (wellington.govt.nz)
- Community Centres can can provide support for people on how they can engage with neighbours and get involved in their local community. Find out now where your nearest community centre is.
The Residential Tenancy Act does not state that a landlord must provide an engineer’s report to the tenant, but it is recommended best practice.
However, any building used for business activities requires the owner and the tenant to fulfil various duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Most importantly, they have a duty to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate with one another. With this in mind, ask your building owner if they have had a recent engineers report from a chartered engineer to determine the building’s tolerance to an earthquake.
If either party is failing to consult or co-operate effectively over building safety, contact your local council and/or the tenancy tribunal.
During an Earthquake
If a large earthquake occurs, Drop, Cover and Hold until the shaking stops. Do not try to leave your building while the ground is still shaking.
If an earthquake is long or strong, get gone! This means if the shaking is longer than a minute or strong enough to knock you off your feet, it is a natural sign that the earthquake is local and likely to pose a tsunami threat. As soon as the shaking stops you will need to head inland, uphill or to the fifth floor and higher. Be mindful of aftershocks, and if they occur make sure you Drop, Cover and Hold again before continuing.
We realise that not everyone will be able to make it to safety in time. If you think you will not have enough time to evacuate your building, we recommend that you make your way to the fifth floor or higher within your building. There are currently no building standards for tsunami in New Zealand, so it cannot be determined if a building is tsunami safe and can be used for vertical evacuation. You should only consider vertical evacuation if there is no other option, and you will need to be prepared to stay for up to 7 days without official support.
Use the staircase because the power supply could be unreliable, and aftershocks could cause further safety issues to the building. When using staircases to evacuate your building, be aware of damage and debris. When exiting the building, be aware of materials above and around the entrance of the building which could cause injury.
DO NOT use the elevator following a large earthquake.
For a locally generated tsunami there will be no time to send out an official notification. The only warning you will get is the earthquake itself. There are no tsunami sirens in the Wellington Region. You could have as little as 10 minutes to move inland, uphill or to the fifth floor or higher before the first tsunami waves reach the coastline. The earthquake is likely to feel bigger than any earthquake you have experienced prior – strong enough to immediately knock you off your feet or continuing for a minute or longer.
Should I stay or go?
After a long or strong earthquake a tsunami may reach Wellington in as little as 10 minutes. When the shaking stops, and if you live in a tsunami zone, you will have to make a quick decision on whether to stay or go. If you think you have enough time to evacuate you building, get as far in-land and uphill as fast as you can. If you choose to stay in your building you need to go to the fifth floor or higher to be safe from a tsunami. You should only stay in your building if you think it is more dangerous evacuating by foot.
After an Earthquake
As part of your household plan identify an alternative place to stay outside of the tsunami zone, perhaps with a friend or family member. Make sure you discuss your plan with them and have a grab bag in your building with enough supplies, to make sure you can get there safely.
Building owners are primarily responsible for ensuring buildings remain structurally sound following a major event and assisting authorised Civil Defence Emergency Management officials or your local council. The situation differs depending on whether a state of emergency has been declared or not.
If a state of emergency has been declared, Civil Defence and Emergency Management has the legislative powers to inspect buildings to ensure their safety. Buildings will typically be inspected and stickered depending on the state of your building.
If no state of emergency is declared, your local council is likely to become involved where buildings may be dangerous or insanitary.
Make sure to liaise with your landlord and/or building manager during this time.
After a large earthquake don't flush!
The two bucket system is probably the most realistic way of managing your poos and wees.
At present, disposing of your poos and wees is something you will need to discuss with your building owner. WREMO, Wellington Water and the councils are working to develop some specific plans to address this issue and aim to have further guidance in place by the end of 2021. Options include using a nearby garden or lawn for digging and burying waste.
A building without functioning toilets may need to be evacuated for health and safety reasons.
Find out from your building owner who is responsible for turning off your utilities. If it is you then make sure you know how to turn them off. Make sure you have the correct tools to turn off your utilities stored with your emergency supplies.
After a major event, is it very likely that phone and internet networks will be down. The best way to receive official notifications and information will be through radio. Make sure that you have stored either a battery powered radio (with extra batteries) or a wind-up radio, with your emergency supplies.
Radio New Zealand National is the designated Civil Defence radio broadcaster for New Zealand. In the event of an emergency local radio stations including Newstalk ZB, Classic Hits, More FM and Radio Live may broadcast civil defence advice.
Community Emergency Hubs
What is a Community Emergency Hub?
A Community Emergency Hub is a place for the community to gather and support each other by sharing information, skills and resources during a disaster, such as a major earthquake.
A Hub is opened and run by the community. There will be no official assistance available at the Hub.