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Lessons Learnt. A report on EQC’s response to the Canterbury earthquakes.

Towards the end of 2011, EQC commissioned Martin, Jenkins & Associates Limited to review and provide a forward-looking report aimed at capturing lessons learnt from the Canterbury earthquakes.

In commissioning the report, EQC’s aim was to gather knowledge to improve future delivery of services, while also providing useful insights to help the existing earthquake response. EQC received an early draft (dated 1 March 2012) of the report 'EQC Response to Canterbury Events: Lessons learned' on 2 March 2012, which was never completed due to the announcement of the Treasury review expected to cover much the same ground.

However, some of the key findings from the March 2012 report were:

  • The EQC of pre-September 4, 2010, is not the EQC that exists today. There have been significant developments in capability, systems and processes as lessons have been learned on the journey.
  • The multiple event nature of the Canterbury earthquakes, with the extensive land damage and associated complexities are unprecedented in human history.
  • Responding to the demands of this situation for any organisation was always going to be far from ‘business as usual’, with response and recovery agencies developing new solutions in situ and finding existing arrangements at times in experienced and inadequate for responding with textbook efficiency and effectiveness to demands on them.
  • Despite this, much has been achieved by EQC throughout the process of responding to Canterbury events as assessments have been completed, contents claims settled, emergency work undertaken and managed repairs underway in Christchurch.
  • Organisational and outsourcing arrangements in place under the Catastrophe Response Plan assisted with this, as did the sheer energy and drive of EQC personnel, contractors and personnel from colleague agencies for getting things done.

From EQC’s point of view, the Christchurch earthquakes involved the kind of damage you would expect in wartime – the destruction of the central city, significant loss of life, and a trail of devastation through residential Christchurch and damage to major underground infrastructure. Because the distress and damage was so bad, it can be compelling to think that everything will be fixed immediately and that there will be a perfect response.

The reality, of course, was the enormous logistical challenges for all the agencies involved.  As the ‘first’ insurer, the demand on EQC to swing into action immediately and in ways never envisioned was unavoidable. Many far-reaching decisions had to be made in far-from-perfect circumstances. It's hardly surprising there were shortcomings and, in that respect, any review would find lots that could be done better -- all this in a perfect world, of course.

It’s worth noting that an independent review commissioned in 2008 on how EQC could cope in the event of a significant natural disaster said “As a benchmark, the review panel considered an ‘upper level’ event to be one in which total claims exceeded 80,000, with a major Wellington earthquake resulting in as many as 150,000 claims.” As it turns out, EQC has had to deal with over treble those claim numbers that a panel of experts envisaged as the “worst case scenario”, and we have done this all from a standing start of just 22 people. 

As much as possible, EQC is dealing with the issues raised by the 'EQC Response to Canterbury Events: Lessons learned' report. EQC is a rapidly-changing organisation as it moves through the phases of emergency response, substantive repairs and claim settlement and the eventual wind down. What is important at one moment rapidly becomes irrelevant as we move through the various phases in claim settlement.

EQC expects to complete Canterbury claim settlements by the end of 2014 – a year sooner than forecast. But the reality is that it will take years, if not decades, to complete the full reconstruction of Canterbury.

The full report is on our EQC website.

You can also hear the Radio NZ Morning Report interview with EQC Chief Executive Ian Simpson here.


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