“Keep calm and carry on” London Blitz poster in the front window of an earthquake closed photo restoration store in Colombo St, Sydenham
We had organised a SmartNet breakfast session in Christchurch for Australian speaker Steve Simpson* five days after the Canterbury Earthquake and the day after he was a big hit as wrap up speaker at a national local body conference in Queenstown.
A state of emergency was in place, but the earthquake was a tale of two cities: part functioning almost normally, part like a time warp trip to bomb blitzed London 70 years ago.
Having checked out the venue, the NZIM building in Madras St, and the routes to it we decided to keep calm and carry on, even if Steve’s organisational change topic had taken on a new tectonic tone: Cracking the Corporate Code-Understanding the Unwritten Ground Rules™.
Exactly half the 110 people who had booked for the session turned up after an email from us saying that we would understand if they couldn’t make it, but for those who could the session was still on. It was a chance to catch up with other people, swap quake stories and start to restore a little normalcy to the shaky and shaken city.
5 minutes after Steve had started I realized that I’d forgotten to brief the audience on the evacuation procedure in the event of another jolt. I interrupted him, apologized and pointed out the emergency exits and the outside assembly point.
Within 3 minutes we were evacuating according to plan. The most severely felt aftershock, a violent 5.1 at 7.49am on Wed 8 September, with an epicenter near the Port of Lyttelton and only 6kms deep, shook the building fiercely and knocked the power out.
After a quick check of the building and time for people to check in with home and work Steve resumed his presentation and shed more light on UGRs, initially in the semi-gloom, before the power came back on. UGRs were temporarily renamed Underground Giant Rumbles.
Queensland-based Steve Simpson is going to run a free webinar for those who couldn’t make the session or had to leave early. Either way it was a memorable session and we didn’t make any Julia Gillard jokes for at least an hour.
Footnote: I grabbed some Owen Marshall short stories from the library the other day for some weekend reading. The irony of the title didn’t register until later: When Gravity Snaps.