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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Quake/Disaster and Volunteerism

The Quake event has brought out a lot of volunteers, those that are formally organised in various teams or groups, such as the NZ USAR Response Teams attached to Civil Defence, Red Cross, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications, Land Search and Rescue, and many others. These teams/groups are there all the time, with a structure, regular meetings and training, and in many cases qualifications. They have given a lot of time over many years in most cases and while don't seek recognition they do need to be recognised.

As well as these structured volunteer organisations there are also the many volunteers that come forward at the time of greatest need such as the Christchurch Earthquake. They, not unlike the trained volunteers, can get frustrated with the apparent delays or lack of action at times. However in many cases it is not possible to use untrained volunteers in many situations or for many tasks, including operating in dangerous areas such as the CBD. So there is a huge challenge in how to usefully engage these spontaneous volunteers that either don't have the require qualifications and training, or who's qualifications and training cannot be verified at the time for one reason or another.

There are then also the semi-organised volunteers such as the Student Volunteer Army and other organisations that have come together to work in specialist areas such as the development of the Christchurch Recovery Map who has been doing great work as well.

One often wonders is Volunteerism dying, as many traditional service organisations such as Jaycees and Lions are in decline. Even other organisations that should appeal to the young and old alike, such as LandSAR some times struggle to find volunteers for various roles. Similarly organisations like Scouting continue to struggle to find volunteers to act as Leaders, especially young ones, to train our youth in outdoor skills and other qualities to make them better citizens. 

I have some times lamented that this is due to societal change and that young people today do not have the time or inclination to commit to volunteer organisations for long periods of time like people used to. It is currently not uncommon to find people in LandSAR, Lions etc that have been there for 20-40 years, and in some cases even longer. But it is hard to see that trend continuing.

Today's volunteers seem to stay for shorter periods of time, or just for a short event like the Quake.

So do we need to find new ways to engage young volunteers and work with them closer to work out how to keep them active and engaged in our organisations.

The use of Social Media seems to be the key to activating large numbers of young volunteers such as the Student Volunteer Army and others like it.

Certainly at the moment there is a lot of interest in organisations such as Civil Defence and Red Cross etc, and there will be a large surge in volunteers, but will they stay, will they be prepared to make the large commitments of time to initial and ongoing training that is needed to get qualified and to stay current and practiced?

There is a challenge there that we need to look closely at, and in most cases change, our organisations to match the needs of the new volunteer.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Quake - 2 Weeks on

Just over 2 weeks since the quake, and some things are returning to normal, some things will go on for months, even years from now. Parts of the CBD have been opened to residents to access homes, some with limited access due to safety. Other parts of the CBD are also hoped to be opened for access soon, but other parts of the CBD will be closed for some time yet.

It is hard to say how much longer my part will continue with the CD USAR Response Team work work, as there is still much to be done, but how much of the work can be returned to the normal services yet is uncertain. I am expecting that there will be at least a few more days to a week before we finish, and it will take a while to demobilise anyway.

Today I had a day off from CD USAR Response Team work, and had a good sleep. I also caught up with some friends at an old work place and saw some of the damage there, and hear their stories.

I spent some time at Red Cross again helping with some of  their IT and Communications requirements and in some meetings.

It has been an honour to be involved in talks with and arranging meetings for the Google Crisis Response team to see how various functions are operating in the disaster response and to look at ideas of how they can help now and for future disaster events. These meetings have also involved other groups providing support to the disaster efforts via technology solutions.

Tonight as an almost return to normality is a monthly meeting of the local Amateur Radio Emergency Communications section, and we will spend some time on our stories and lessons learnt in our response in providing communications support to various agencies during the disaster response efforts. Our normal meeting place has been affected by the quake, and we will be meeting somewhere different, but it will be good to start to return to this almost normality.

It is also heart warming to hear of offers of assistance from the ICT Community to provide equipment and support for those in hospital after the affects of the quake, helping them to keep in touch with loved ones. Other news of support I caught on the news tonight is a donation from one philanthropist of $4M to assist in the rebuilding of the Cathedral. The Cathedral really is an iconic part of the identity of Christchurch, and hopefully it can be rebuilt to something very much like its former self.

Friday, March 04, 2011

ICT in a Disaster (or is it ICT *is* a Disaster?)

I have helped Red Cross, both IFRC and national societies, in a number if places around the world with ICT soon after a disaster, I never imagined that I would be doing so here in my own home town ...

As indicated in my previous blog post I have written an article on ICT in a Disaster as it relates to the disaster that unfolded around me in Christchurch over the past week and a bit.

The article is included in NZCS NewLine specifically the 16th Edition and the article is here

It was written in non-existent spare time while I was probably a bit tired, so I have been surprise that the feedback has indicated that it is quite good. Feel free to comment.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Quake - Ongoing

As the shakes keep coming, smaller and less frequent maybe, the response keeps going apace.

Teams and Incident Management staff are rotating from time to time to prevent fatigue, and some of the RT teams from out of town may be stood down for a spell. Now all 18 Response Teams have been involved in the response as well as the 3 NZ USAR Task Forces and the many international USAR Teams  As well as the RT Teams a large number of Land SAR Volunteers from around the country have also been assisting the response effort.

AREC, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications, members from the Amateur Radio (Ham) community are assisting the effort providing communications equipment, advice and assistance through operators at a number of sites in relation to the response.AREC has had a long history supporting emergencies and disasters in New Zealand with its formation going back to just after the Napier Quake. AREC

It has been, and continues to be, a very busy time for all involved. The response from the public and various groups to assist and help the Civil Defence response has been pretty amazing.

The number of command points around the city is pretty amazing, with a lot of NZ Fire Service Command vehicles and others from around the country in place for the various agencies and functions.

I was going to blog more about ICT and the disaster, however instead I am working on a piece for the NZCS Newsline, so stay tuned and I will post a link to it when it is finished.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Christchurch Shaken & Broken, but Standing Strong

Wow, what a few days, and there will be many more.

Being involved with the response has meant that I have been around the centre of town a bit, and like many others that have commented it is so surreal. It really is like a ghost town at the moment.

I have a few photos on Flickr

Heading home from a night shift at Response Team Rescue Base I was struck how grim things were as I passed through the CBD, but then on the other hand how things were ALMOST like normal as I passed through Riccarton and Upper Riccarton (lesser impacted than other suburbs) getting closer to home.

A number of shops were open, cars, people and even a few other cyclists were about. While the buses were not running I saw a couple of ladies at a bus stop looking as if they were wondering where the buses were ....

In my technology world I have been lucky at home in that we had minimal damage, and in fact we have not lost services, so have remained connected to the world by Social Media, and amazed with the support, the reporting, and even the changes that have occur ed after this event. Even the CCC has made the move to Twitter now.

In the response, especially the initial stages, we keep it simple, there is just no time to organise technology solutions, so a lot of what we do is paper based etc. While in general the mobile phone infrastructure has stayed up we have worked mainly with radio for various reasons, and this is where I have spent most of my efforts, helping with setting things up and manning the Response Team Rescue Base radios. Quite a few portable repeater systems have been put in place to supplement existing systems and to provide more capacity for the various response activities by many volunteers from Response Teams, Red Cross and LandSAR to name a few.

On the IT side we are starting to use more as systems are brought into place, and it is great to see efforts by CrisisCommons and others going into action to bring about various projects to help people during these trying times.

On a personal note, my thanks to all for the messages of support and best wishes, I am thankful that we have been very lucky and been spared, but sometimes feel a little guilty that we are so well off compared to others. Many in my extended family and friends have had severe damage to homes, but they are still with us.

My thoughts go out to the family and friends of those that have not been so lucky.

Stand Strong Christchurch, we will rebuild better than before, but it will take time to heal.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CDMA 1X Sucks ...

And why am I in CDMA 1X hell, because Telecom NZ has forced me into yet another change, and then cannot supply the phone that I want to allow me to upgrade.

I have been a loyal Telecom mobile customer for more than 15 years and some would wonder why ...

Twice now they have forced me into change due to their change of network. Now I am all for improvement, but in both instances I have had to change handsets and leave behind a bunch of expensive accessories, and loose a bunch of functionality that I had before, as well as have to sign up to a new contract to get some discount on yet another expensive phone ...

This time the phone I wanted, that still did not meet all my requirements, is not available for how long. I ordered and placed a deposit some weeks ago expecting it in December, and now I get a call to say that it is not going to be available in December, they are not sure when, maybe January. This phone is the Samsung Galaxy S i900t, I am pretty excited about the many possibilities of Android without the lock-in imposed by Apple and Microsoft, and certainly the uptake of Android seems to indicate that many other think similarly. Also the worldwide shortage of the Galaxy would seem to also indicate that it is pretty much the phone of choice at the moment. In the mean time I am stuck in CDMA 1X hell with my trusty old Harrier ....

With the forced changes over the past two network 'upgrades' I have lost functions such as high power and external antenna connectivity for working from very remote locations, I have also lost functions such as serial port which allowed me to connect to external devices, and infrared interface. I know that I am an unusual, advanced, user and that these features do not appeal so much to the masses, but I can't continue to use the features in my older phone(s) due to the enforced upgrades at my cost.

I am sure that there are many out there that will say move to an alternate network, and I must say that the reasons for staying with Telecom are slowly disappearing. I still believe that they have the better overall high speed coverage, but maybe someone can prove this wrong?

So as a long term loyal Telcom mobile contract customer that has been forced to upgrade at large expense and inconvenience twice now what can Telecom offer to retain me as a customer. It appears that I have almost a month to change my mind, since it would seem that they are in breach of contract of supply.

So open to comments and suggestions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shake Up - Part 3

As stated previously we were very lucky that things were not much worse from the Quake.

While overall the response has been pretty good I am sure that there will be some lessons learnt, and I hope that the shake up will allow some thought to be given in a number of areas:
  • The USAR TFs and RTs have been deployed in mass for the first time, and they have shown that the system works. Hopefully the Ministry Civil Defence & Emergency Management (CDEM) and the Fire Service can get together and take some leadership and sort out some real clear direction, funding and support for this initiative.
  • On a similar basis the Territorial Local Authorities (TLAs) that have Response Teams need to look hard at what they do to keep these dedicated volunteers, by making sure that they are well trained, equipped and looked after
  • The Public at large needs to wake up and take notice. The Civil Defence systems cannot look after everyone in the first few days. The messages have been out there, so why do so few have Emergency Kits, Checklists and Plans in place. Come on people "Get Ready - Get Through". How can the messages be delivered more effectively, maybe the CDEM structure needs to make more use of Social Media rather than traditional.
  • And also for the public, and the CDEM agencies, after the Quake there is a huge awareness of Emergencies and of what Volunteers have been doing, so it is a great time to recruit and train volunteers for the future. Make the most of the opportunity.
  • Many businesses also need a bit of a shake up. I have heard a few stories of businesses that will have difficulties, because they lost vital business systems and information when buildings collapsed or were demolished. Businesses need to do very careful risk analysis and have a suitable Disaster Recovery plan in place. 
  • Not entirely related to the Quake, but national and local CDEM organisations have been looking at warning systems for some time, and in general have found that the current SMS TXT options do not work effectively. There is an alternative using Cell Tower Broadcast techniques, which allows localised warning broadcasts based on the coverage area of cell sites in specific areas (such as along the coastal areas for a Tsunami warning etc) However the cellular providers will not meet the costs to implement this technology. In the USA this technology is required by law by next year to allow for warnings about Terror attacks etc. The CMAS system exists that can be used. Should the providers have to meet all of the cost, probably not, should this alerting requirement be a part of regulatory requirements similar to 111, the KiwiShare etc, probably. Again hopefully the Shake Up will allow some progress in this area.
Some links:

Friday, September 24, 2010


Recently I attended the NZCS 50th anniversary Conference and had a really great time.

It was pretty humbling to be amongst some great members of the NZ ICT community, and also to think that I have been involved with NZCS for more than half of the past 50 years.

It was fantastic to see quite a wide cross section of the ICT community come together at this event and intereact in such a great way. While there have been comments about age, gender etc in the industry the mix at the conference was pretty good.

Some of the highlights for me were the keynote presentations from the likes of Sam Morgan, Ian Taylor, Craig Nevill-Manning and Nat Torkington.

The networking with everyone, the Bar Camp/Unconference on the Saturday, and especially the Conference Dinner on the Friday night were also all a major buzz.

Another highlight of the conference was the launch of the new book: "Return to Tomorrow: 50 years of computing in New Zealand" incorporating the original "Looking back to Tomorrow" from 25 years ago as well as new material. Get yours now, they are selling fast and you don't want to miss out. Order here

Looking forward to the next conference, not sure how, but am sure it will be even better.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shake Up - Part 2

Shake Up - Part 2

As per part 1, I believe that we were very very lucky, in fact I believe that we 'dodged a bullet' and this can be attributed to a number of factors including size, time, location.

Based on some definitions it could be said that this was not a disaster, "an exceptional event which suddenly kills or injures large numbers of people", but that is not to down play the damage and suffering that has occurred.

In saying that however I was pleasantly surprised as to how well many parts of the system and infrastructure held up and responded.

Thankfully the Civil Defence Response Teams did not have to deploy in a way that would test their training, which is primarily to rescue people after such a disaster in a mass casualty situation. However the USAR (Urban Search And Rescue) Task Force(s) and the Response Teams still activated and did a great job of helping the public through a very difficult time.

We spent most of our time taking down chimneys that were dangerous, giving some peace of mind with the ever continuing aftershocks.

It was really great to see all three of the USAR Task Forces deployed for the event, and for the local Response Teams to be working with them, even if it was in a different role than expected. It was also great to see other Response Teams from around the country called in to help, as the local teams really needed some relief.

So to all the USAR and RT teams, great job well done, and hopefully we will get more opportunities to work together in training/exercise situations rather than another real one any time soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shake Up - Part 1

Part 1 - My experiences at the time of the quake and the next 24hrs.

I missed the actual 7.1 Quake as I was in Wellington at the time for an Essentials of Humanitarian Practice course by RedRNZ. However I was to be involved due to my involvement with Civil Defence, and did return home pretty much as soon as I could. At the same course were a number of others that would be involved, including two key members of the Canterbury Civil Defence Group, and it was coincidental the discussion I was having with the Manager - Canterbury Regional Emergency Management Office only hours before the Quake occurred.

I slept through the TXT from my wife, but was awoken a little late when the Civil Defence Response Team pager went off activating the team I am involved with (NZRT-11). I had to respond that I was not initially available for the activation, and I then contacted home and found that there was no real damage and everyone was ok. I tried to get onto the 'net via my Telecom CDMA Smartphone, but could not get a connection, so tried to get some sleep as there was little I could do at that time.

I got up later, not succeeding in getting much more sleep, and finished off the course I was at and packed up etc. Having found out that there wasn't much chance of getting back to Christchurch by commercial flights for a while anyway.

I did manage, thanks to helpful Air New Zealand staff, to get an earlier flight than my original booking and got into Christchurch on one of the first flights.

Flying in was a bit surreal, and could not see a lot of obvious damage, although in retrospect the "didn't look quite right" aspects of the Wigram runway were probably pretty bad breaking up of the tarmac.

That afternoon I spent unpacking, doing some clearing up at home, and preparing for the time to follow, as while we had been very lucky and there had not been any deaths, and only a very small number of injuries from the Quake, there was obviously much work to be done.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


I have been looking for a replacement for my Harrier for a while, but am now being forced to change as Telecom are dropping CDMA 3G Data support in November. This is the second time that Telecom as forced me to abandon a phone and accessories etc that have features I need that are not necessarily available in any of the new phones. As a long time contract customer I am a bit peeved at this, as while there is a token special offer available, it is no better than some of the offers they have made to gain new customers, there is no real incentive for customer loyalty.

However I still have a preference for Telecom as I believe that over all they still have the best coverage for high speed data around the country. While I hope that Telecom has resolved all the XT issues, they seem to be very slow introducing new phones, and those that they are introducing have been around for some time in other markets, making them old before they are launched here ...

I have a wish-list below, some items are negotiable others aren't. So if anyone has any suggestions then let me know:
  • Quad Band+ but primarily 3G on 850MHZ (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 / 2100)
  • GPS
  • Good internal memory
  • SD or microSD SDHC storage (compatible with at least up to 16G cards)
  • 5Mpx + camera
  • USB connection (pretty obvious)
  • WiFi (802.11n?)
  • Bluetooth
  • Infrared
  • Serial? or USB Master & Slave capable
  • Large touch screen
  • secondary camera to allow for video calling (or main camera can move from from front to back)
  • FM Radio
  • External antenna connection option
  • Good Outlook integration/sync (contacts & calendar at least, notes also desirable)
  • Word & Excel compatible, + PDF Reader
  • Android or Windows7Phone ???

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Paths of Glory

I have read a lot of Jeffery Archer over the years, and while he may not be every one's cup of tea he is a pretty good read. This followed on from my previous reads about great mountaineering adventures.

Paths of Glory is fiction, but based on the true story of George Mallory's life and the early, unsuccessful, Everest expeditions in the 1920's

"Archer's mystery shows him at his peak. He is every bit Somerset Maugham's match as a storyteller" : Daily Mail

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nothing Venture, Nothing Win

After reading Three Cups of Tea, I had to read Nothing Venture, Nothing Win, which is Sir Ed Hillary's autobiography, after all he was Mortenson's hero.

I had had the book on my shelf for some time, but had never gotten around to reading it. I had been searching for books, badges etc relating to the Scouting section of Venturers, and the title came up often in my searches on Trade-Me, so I purchased a copy.

A great story about a great man.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I recently started using Dropbox and am finding it great.

I am mainly using it to sync files between my desktop computer and my laptop. However it can be used to sync files between operating systems and to share files with other Dropbox users etc.

It comes with a 2G plan for free

To get Dropbox and to get an extra 250M free click here

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

I recently finished reading Three Cups of Tea - One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time.

The story of Greg Mortenson and his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan building schools, not dissimilar to Ed Hillary's work in Nepal.

The book was given to me by a fellow International Red Cross delegate when I was in Haiti in 2008, I hadn't gotten around to reading for some time, but once I got into it I found it hard to put down.

Greg's accounts and linkages between the lack of open education and the raise of the Taliban and extremist views in the region at the time leading up to Al-Qaeda and 9/11 is fascinating.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Maps and NZTM Grid/Projection

With the almost imminent arrival of the new Topo50 map series on the 24th there have been a few people asking about setting up older GPS's for the new NZTM Grid that the new maps use.

There are a few documents etc around, but I have also put some notes together.

Have a look at and the linked PDF file and let me know what you think.

If anyone comes across issues with specific models then let me know.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life and Death and other musings

In the past two and a bit years I have been to too many 'celebrations of life' of those that have been taken sooner than they should.

Yesterday I attended a service for a 10 week old, which was the most amazing service I have been to. It was a time to reflect and a number of things came from it that moved me, and got me thinking.

The question was raised, "where is the logic" or in other words "why did they have to be taken", as is often done, and I guess that in most cases, regardless of your belief, death is a moving on to a better place, free of pain and suffering. It does then beg more questions about pain and suffering, but for those that believe there is a mysterious plan that is not known to us.

Also at the service yesterday a poem was quoted that needs to be shared: its key message is

"So, when all that's left of me is love, give me away as best you can."

See the whole poem here

To all those that have lost, and those that grieve, you will hold on to the memories, and the love remains, be strong and think of what they would want you to do, the pain does ease with time, but life goes on.

New Entry ...

Ok so I haven't been adding entries here for a while, instead I have been tweeting on Twitter and posting on Facebook.

However recent events have let me back to putting something on the blog, and maybe I will do so more often.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Conficker Worm

Most of us in the industry are aware of and will have patched and protected ourselves from the Conficker Worm that is meant to go active today and potentially creating havoc on computer systems.

Everyone needs to make sure that they have all Microsoft Updates in place, and that their Anti-Virus systems are working and current.

Here in NZ a number of organisations got hit hard with the earlier outbreak. See:

A free tool to detect infected or vulnerable computers is available for system admins from prominent Computer Security firm Eeye