The Ministry of Civil Defence reminds everyone in New Zealand to be prepared for an earthquake at all times. Drop, Cover and Hold is the right action to take in an earthquake. If you are living near the coast, get tsunami ready. It helps to make a plan with your family, friends and community on what to do. The Ministry of Civil Defence website has resources that may help you in your planning.

what to do in an earthquake

But when your residents and their families trust you to look after them, you make sure you’re well equipped to handle anything. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck early morning on 14 November which placed this Christchurch-based retirement facility’s emergency preparedness to the test. Park Lane (part of the Arvida group) is a retirement village that offers independent and assisted living options including 24 hour rest home hospital care.

Here are the things they have in place as part of their emergency procedures that helped them get through the recent earthquake without panic and stress.

1. All staff attend emergency preparedness training regularly.

Every six months, Park Lane conducts their fire drill, fire warden training and emergency disaster training. They also have evacuation drills every two months. “We’ve just had our emergency disaster training with Fire Fighting Pacific. They go through what to do if there are floods, earthquake, bomb threats and fire,” shares village manager, Aleshia Rayner. Team Leader of the Care Unit, Sharon adds, “we have really good training and we just recently had one. Everyone was just clued up and being well trained, knew what to do.”

arvida_exteriors_08When Aleshia arrived at the village 20 minutes after the earthquake happened, the staff had
already started the emergency procedures. “All the residents had been checked on, the villa residents had been checked on… It was fantastic to see and it was good for me to see the practice of the staff as well.” She carried out a physical check for damages on the building and every room and found none.


2. A copy of the emergency procedures flip chart is readily available.  

They developed emergency procedures flip charts that are easily accessible around the facility. They are placed in the nurses’ station, kitchen and their many communal areas. “It is just to give that added bit of knowledge and is useful for agency staff,” Aleshia adds.

When the tsunami warning was raised, they again applied the emergency procedures. The villa residents and the residents on the first floor were evacuated to the second floor. The residents were more than happy to be guided by the staff to be evacuated.

3. They have printed copies of the evacuation plan which includes information of residents and their next-of-kin.  

Aleshia’s biggest learning from the 2011 earthquake was to have a printed copy of the evacuation plan. She used to work for a retirement village that stored everything electronically so when the earthquake hit, they couldn’t access any of the residents’ files. At Park Lane, there is a copy of the plan on each floor and a main copy in reception. “The main copy at reception has the resident’s name, the mobility status of the resident, room number, resident phone number, number of the unit, and at the back a list of all the residents’ next-of-kin their address and contact numbers. Then it has all the disaster management procedures on the back of it,” Aleshia shares.

Stephanie is a healthcare assistant and team leader who just finished her afternoon shift but came back to assist the evacuation. She shares her own experience. After all the residents had been evacuated she recalls, “after one o’clock the RNs started to ring all of the families, even to just leave voicemails as long as they’re informed that everyone is okay.”

4. The residents know of the evacuation plan.   

Four times a year at residents meeting, Aleshia goes through the emergency procedures and evacuation plan with the residents. She thinks it’s important they are aware that plans are in place not only to give them and their families the assurance but also to ensure their cooperation. On the night of the earthquake, staff and residents calmly followed emergency procedures.

When all procedures had been done, comfort and wellbeing were taken care of. “The Arvida attitude is all about wellbeing and that’s not only physical wellbeing, it’s emotional wellbeing. We make sure that we are there to comfort and give extra support to the residents, staff, and the families,”Aleshia adds.

5. They debrief and identify lessons learned. 

At their debrief session, she acknowledged the staff’s commitment and focus during the ordeal. She also thanked those who extended their shift and those who were off duty who came in to help. “They’ve got their own families at home, and they kept calm. In light of everything, the fact that they can still focus on the residents is fantastic.”

She also shares her own lessons learned on making sure they keep improving emergency response, “from this event there is one thing I noted – all of our emergency disaster food supplies are on the ground floor so I’m now in the process of having two. So now we’re putting our emergency food supply in the care unit kitchen on the second floor. We just need to learn and prepare a bit better.”

6. They have a post-emergency plan.

The facility is built post the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and is built to meet the requirements of the current earthquake building code. The building is very safe but Park Lane will not leave anything to chance. They had structural engineers come in after the recent earthquake to do a full check. Aleshia shares, “We have had EQC in already. They came in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and completed a full inspection of each room. We have had a report back that there is no structural damage at all, which is very reassuring.”


Going above and beyond for residents, staff and their families

When the tsunami warning was raised, Park Lane opened their doors to the residents’ families, and to their own staff and their families. “We are far enough away, and we are a very safe building. We have plenty of rooms and family lounges and emergency supplies,” Aleshia shares.

Healthcare staff at Park Lane received much thanks from residents and their families appreciating the update and reassurance that their family members were safe and being looked after. Aleshia herself was given kudos by her staff and residents. Sharon said, “her management was brilliant. It was so lovely, so good that Aleshia was there with us reassuring residents and families.” Aleshia added, “I think it’s very important for managers to understand that you can’t expect your staff to stay and look after your residents if you are not prepared to do it yourself. The residents know right from the top that we all care.”

The challenging ordeal showcased that with excellent teamwork, a well trained staff and being well prepared makes a great difference. The staff passed with flying colours that received compliments and gratitude from their residents and their families.

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