I have been asked to talk about community resilience in the context of the Christchurch experience. But I cannot miss the opportunity to deliver a message to the industry that holds the key to so much of our future.
This has led to decisions being made on economic grounds that may not have been otherwise made. This is not well-understood. It has also added a layer of complexity to a decision-making process that has not been well-communicated by any of the players.
In addition the city is still experiencing the reality of a post-trauma environment, which has impacted different people in different ways. People say to me, what's changed for you? I say pyjamas. I know it's too much information, but like many people I had nothing on when the first earthquake struck. I am saying this to highlight the reality that no-one is untouched, but for many, the challenges are far greater than they are for others. Last week, at the public Community Forum I co-hosted with the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, one of the people asked the Minister if he had been in Christchurch on the day of the February earthquake.
The questioner explained that people had seen things they would never forget and that they were dealing with stuff that, as he said, someone who wasn't there couldn't have a clue about. He then said that dealing with EQC, EQR, Fletchers, CERA, the insurers and Southern Response was infinitely more stressful than the earthquakes. For me it was one of the most compelling moments of the night. It was very raw and, for many people in the room, it was very real, judging by the applause. But people didn't hear the Minister's full reply. He said he wasn't there on the day, but his family was. Being unable to connect with family for hours is another one of those layers of trauma that still haunts our city. I remember a friend of mine telling me that the longest period of her life was the time it took to get from the Press building in Cathedral Square, where she was working, to her daughter's school so she could collect her. I get that. When the bombs went off in London, I couldn't process any information about why my sister wasn't on the Tube at that time on that day, until I heard her voice on the other end of the phone.
I am saying this because anyone who is dealing with people in Christchurch needs to understand where people are at. And there is no 'one size fits all'. Referring to the scale of the event or the number of settled claims, home repairs and rebuilds can leave people who aren't in that category thinking they are invisible and not being heard. I remember after the September earthquake talking to CERA's Chief Executive, Roger Sutton, when he was the head of Orion. He was providing daily updates showing the increasing percentage of households with power – 60%, 70%, 80% - a fantastic story of a truly resilient organisation that served our city incredibly well.
I said to him you are ignoring the east – the city may be 80% with power but the east is 80% without power. So he changed the message – still the good news with the 80% headline for the city, but then he would give the total number of houses still without power, their location and anticipated timeframes for restoring power. If I have learned anything from this event it is the importance of communication. People need to know they are being heard and that everyone who can influence the resolution of their situation is actively working to do just that. I attended a flooding meeting the week before the forum and the last question of the night framed a sense of despair into a simple question.
The question related to all the different players involved in determining the myriad of issues that affect those in flood zones, who are told they have to repair their house even though they cannot mitigate an increased flood risk with higher finished floor levels. She ended her list of the players – EQC, insurers, the council, MBIE, CERA – with this simple question: Who is on my side? More than three years from the first earthquake, this single question represents a failure that is hidden in the completion statistics and, to our newly elected Council it is a collective call to action.
People don't want spin. They don't want to be told that this is unprecedented or that the issues are complex. They know that. And they don't want to know what has been done for others. They want to be told where, when, how and why it will be done for them. And we have a collective responsibility to provide these answers in a straight-forward and timely fashion. The Council is stepping up its role in ensuring this happens. Part of our problem has been a misunderstanding about what community engagement is and more importantly what it is not. Community engagement is not a meeting with members of the community to explain decisions and answer questions. Genuine community engagement is a part of the decision-making process - a meaningful exchange where ideas flow both ways before decisions are made. The failure of community engagement has led to a breakdown in trust, which has to be reearned.
The new Council understands what needs to be done, but we need to engage all of the recovery agencies – public and private – yourselves included in that process. That is why when I spoke at the Insurance & Savings Ombudsman conference a few weeks ago, I said I believe we should sit down together and write up all the questions that need answers. We should agree the process for determining the answers in individual cases and agree to take the rest to arbitration or court so there is certainty - certainty for you as insurers and certainty for the people of Christchurch. This is precisely the process that was agreed with central government over the question of reinstatement of EQC cover with each event. The question that was asked was framed as follows:
Where there are multiple events causing natural disaster damage to the same residential or personal property during the term of the underlying contract of fire insurance, and EQC has not, at the time of subsequent natural disaster damage, made any payment in respect of previous natural disaster damage, is EQC liable to pay: (1) Up to the amount of $100,000 (or $20,000) in respect of each occurrence of natural disaster damage to that residential building (or that personal property); or (2) No more than $100,000 (or $20,000) in total for the aggregate of all natural disaster damage caused by multiple events to that residential building (or personal property), until EQC cover is reinstated on payment of a claim or by entry into a new or renewed fire insurance contract? These questions were designed to avoid the need to consider different insurance policy terms. I am sure that there are such generic questions that we could formulate that would assist people to settle their cases without the need for each one to end up in court. There is a growing perception that the insurers are carefully identifying the cases that might set 'unhelpful' precedents and settling them out of court, while the multi-national 'claim farmer' cases are the subject of a no-negotiate policy. You may say that is not the case, but in Christchurch right now perception is reality for this significant percentage of people who think the only choice they have to get someone on their side is to pay for it. Some can't afford it. Some are exhausted. Some are desperate. And some are all three. I know that the insurance industry had already set up the Insurance & Savings Ombudsman scheme before they were required to have a consumer dispute resolution service. But as I said to their AGM, the number of complaints they have received will not give them a measure for the true level of need in the community. People need to know what they are entitled to. They need to have someone who knows what they are doing and is on their side. That is advocacy, not assistance and not dispute resolution. This has meant the real statistics are found in the absolute deluge of cases referred to the Community Law Centre, local Members of Parliament offices, advocacy services and lawyers.
The High Court has created a special earthquake list so that priority can be accorded these cases. And decisions in one case can have a flow-on effect to other situations – for example, the Quake Outcasts case, which led the government to decide not to proceed with the Port Hills zoning review while they appeal a decision, which challenges the legality of the land zoning process they adopted. I said in my earlier speech that no-one seemed to have a helicopter view. Here is the image of the recovery process that the Auditor-General produced in their baseline report.
The various lines make this look more chaotic than it actually is. But when you are on the ground looking up it is precisely how it feels. Decisions seem to be made in isolation from the overarching recovery strategy. Communication appears disjointed. The council and CERA are now taking steps to unify our communication which is a great start. So what do these comments have to do with resilience? I have been attending conferences, visiting places that have experienced disaster and meeting with experts in a range of fields. It didn't take long for me to realise that resilience means much more than strong in the face of adversity (which is how it is often used in Christchurch). I have taken this definition from my 'bible' – the US National Research Academy report Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative.
The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events. It obviously applies across every aspect of the natural, built and social environments. The World Economic Forum helpfully breaks this down into the following subsystems:
1. Economic: includes aspects such as the macroeconomic environment, goods and services market, financial market, labour market, sustainability and productivity. 2. Environmental: includes aspects such as natural resources, urbanisation and the ecological system. 3. Governance: includes aspects such as institutions, government, leadership, policies and the rule of law. 4. Infrastructure: includes aspects such as critical infrastructure (namely communications, energy, transport, water and health). 5. Social: includes aspects such as human capital, health, the community and the individual. To measure resilience they assess these using the following five components: 1) robustness, 2) redundancy, 3) resourcefulness, 4) response and 5) recovery.
This is a useful template, to which we could add value from our own experience. Just picking on resourcefulness, the report refers to the ability to adapt to crises, respond flexibly and – when possible – transform a negative impact into a positive. It says that for a system to be adaptive, it must have inherent flexibility.
"The assumption underlying this component of resilience is that if industries and communities can build trust within their networks and are able to self-organise, then they are more likely to spontaneously react and discover solutions to resolve unanticipated challenges when larger country-level institutions and governance systems are challenged or fail." This is at the heart of my drive to reinforce the need to build social capital at the same time as we rebuild our city. Everyone has to be a part of this, which is why it is vital that we give reassurance to those who can see no end in sight; who feel there is no-one on their side. We are building the newest city in the world and it is important that no-one is left out. So why is community resilience important to insurers? It's because of your relationship with the reinsurers. They are just as concerned about these issues as are governments. They cannot accurately price risk any more than governments can prepare for every eventuality in an increasingly uncertain world. They are not interested in debates between climate change deniers and scientific experts. They know that their exposures have increased because of the ever-expanding shift of the world's populations to cities and coastlines. And they know they need to invest in resilience. Pricing risk puts reinsurers on the same page a governments, who need their communities to understand risk so they can either avoid or mitigate against those risks and to promote a speedy recovery post disaster. Although the return on the financial investment may be the reinsurers' driver, investing in resilience makes absolute sense to them, as it does to governments. That is why I believe that if we in Christchurch define clearly what we need to resolve and develop workable solutions, we will help to contribute answers to a worldwide challenge that we all have an interest in. In the report 'Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative' it confronts the topic of how to increase the nation's resilience to disasters through a vision of the characteristics of a resilient nation in the year 2030. I am adapting that to a Christchurch setting:
Every individual and community has access to the risk and vulnerability information they need to make their communities more resilient. I remember the community meetings where the older residents said they knew Pacific Park should never have been built. We cannot afford to continue to under-estimate the value of local knowledge in our planning processes. All layers of the council, communities, and the private sector have designed resilience strategies and operation plans based on this information. Who is the best to develop a tsunami evacuation plan – the coastal community that will be wiped out if they don't get to high enough ground quickly enough or an expert from the council or civil defence? It's both. Obviously the community needs to lead the work, but they still need the experts providing advice and support. Proactive investments and policy decisions have reduced loss of lives, costs, and socio-economic impacts of future disasters. This is about building social capital. Most people who are saved in disasters are saved by neighbours, co-workers and passers-by. Knowing this would you invest dollars in USAR capability or making sure every taxi-driver had a first-aid certificate? Community coalitions are widely organised, recognised, and supported to provide essential services before and after disasters occur. This is actually about doing things for ourselves. Situation reports can be rapidly put together in neighbourhoods and reported to the emergency operations centre. Trusted community leaders can be the information conduit in and out. Recovery after disasters is rapid and cost of responding to disasters has been declining for a decade. $1 spent on disaster risk reduction is $4 saved in recovery. Orion invested $6M strengthening these brick substations.
The one on the right was given to a community group. These substations protected over $60M worth of assets. But more importantly it meant the power wasn't off for 3 months. The public is universally safer, healthier, and better educated. That is the legacy we could leave the nation. I ended my talk in Christchurch with this image.
It shows the destruction, the transition and the rebuild – the past, the present and the future. Let's look at the people and fast forward to the year 2030. Think of their experience of Christchurch pre-September 2010. Not all of them were born.
The very young ones will have no memory of what went before. They will grow up during the transition – their normal will include cranes on the skyline, high vis vests and dump trucks. Their normal will include moving out of their house while it's repaired or rebuilt. The young parents will be my age – a resilient community means they are still here. They didn't leave. They rebuilt their lives, their businesses, their careers and raised their families. Some of them will be thinking about retiring – in 2030 I will 70 years old. I think many of them will be firmly focused on the ones that aren't in the picture yet – their grandchildren.
Some will be well and truly retired and they will always hold the memory of the Christchurch that was; and we will have honoured the memory with careful restoration of our built and natural heritage. The children on the left are the 30-somethings who will be running for Council for the first time and the babies will be the teenagers they will want to keep here.
If we collectively leave a legacy of resilience, in the true sense of the word, then it won't wipe the memory of the destruction and the grief caused by so much loss, but it will mean that out of the tragedy, lessons have been learned and shared with other cities both in New Zealand and across the world. Thank you for putting community resilience on your agenda. Now more than ever, the people of Christchurch need to know that you are on their side too.