Academic journal article School Community Journal

Schools as Communities and for Communities: Learning from the 2010-2011 New Zealand Earthquakes

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Schools as Communities and for Communities: Learning from the 2010-2011 New Zealand Earthquakes

Article excerpt


On September 4, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Christchurch and the surrounding districts. The earthquake caused major damage to buildings, transport links, and infrastructure such as electricity, water supply, and waste removal. A state of emergency was declared, and rescue services began to search through the damaged buildings. Fortunately, because the earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning, no deaths occurred. Many residents found accommodation in emergency shelters until they were able to assess what had happened and consider what to do next (Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, 2012).

Over the next two years, a further 12,000+ aftershocks, including four major quakes (over 6 on the Richter scale), each causing more damage and disruption, prevented the mammoth task of demolishing, repairing, and rebuilding from getting underway. The worst of the aftershocks occurred on February 22, 2011-a 6.3 magnitude jolt with an upthrust of twice the force of gravity. As a result, 185 people were to die, homes and businesses were damaged, and the city's central business district was devastated (Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, 2012).

Following the September 2010 earthquake, many local schools became evacuation or drop-in centers for local communities. When schools reopened several weeks later, they continued to provide support to their students, staff, families, and wider communities. When the February 2011 earthquake occurred, this time during the school day, school personnel played a more immediate role in disaster response as they evacuated, calmed, and cared for students until they were collected by family (Education Review Office, 2013). Over the next three years, schools continued to operate, often under difficult conditions, and to support their communities through postdisaster stresses-even when some of the schools were earmarked by the government for postearthquake closure.

This article traces the response and recovery journeys of five primary schools all affected by the Canterbury earthquakes. It provides an insight into schools as communities, as well as describing the role of schools in and for their communities, especially in a time of need. The findings outline the ways in which schools met their own and their wider communities' physical needs-such as provision of food, water, shelter, and safety-and the ways in which they met emotional, social, and psychological needs. The role played by schools in this disaster context is traced across four time periods: immediate response (the first days after the event); short-term response (after approximately two-three weeks); medium-term response (after approximately six months); and longterm response and recovery (after approximately three years). The findings are then discussed in relation to Gordon's (2004a, 2004b, 2007) theory of social bonding in disaster contexts before the article concludes with a set of recommendations for emergency management policymakers and planners in order that the valuable contributions schools make to community cohesion and resilience might be recognized and supported.

Literature Review

The literature on disaster prevention, response, and recovery is vast; the literature discussed here is kept manageable by focusing on what is most relevant to this article-the role of schools in disaster response and recovery. Ferris and Petz define disasters as "the consequences of events triggered by natural hazards that overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region" (2012, p. xix). Winkworth also talks of the way in which disasters shape "the sense that a group of people make of the event-a shared identity that they have, together, been affected by a major catastrophe" (2007, p. 17). Most descriptions highlight the suddenness or lack of preparedness, the unexpectedness of the size of the event and ensuing damage, and the inability of existing systems to cope. …

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