Informed consent

Written By: - Date published: 10:08 am, March 23rd, 2011 - 45 comments
Categories: business, disaster, Ethics, national - Tags: , ,

One of the charges levelled at the previous government was that of running a “nanny state”. Of course the Nats are every bit as guilty in practice. In fact, more so, the Nats are far more inclined to use the bulldozing force of the state to do whatever the hell they like than any government since the Muldoon era.

A highly charged example of the Nats authoritarian character is playing itself out in Christchurch. Owners of businesses in the red zone CBD want brief access to their premises to retrieve items and data that are vital to whatever remaining chance they have of keeping their enterprises alive. Their frustration at being kept out, while any number of “VIPs” and journalists have been wandering about, has reached boiling point. They have been desperate enough to breach the cordon, and there have been angry meetings with John Carter and Civil Defence. The government is offering a $6.85 million dollar aid package, but business owners are very clear about what they really want:

Christchurch earthquake: Business owners slam aid package

Frustrated Christchurch business owners have slammed a multimillion-dollar Government assistance package, saying their only hope of saving their firms is to be allowed past the earthquake cordons.

Many who have businesses in the worst-affected CBD areas are still unable to access their premises a month on from the deadly quake. Civil Defence officials did not give a timeline at a private meeting yesterday.

“So we are still in limbo,” said Kishor Singh, who owns two buildings in the CBD’s earthquake “red zone”.

Government ministers yesterday reiterated that lives would not be risked to allow access to businesses.

This is not a simple issue. The government has a perfectly defensible position in arguing that safety is the paramount concern. It would be a tragedy if any more lives were lost. However the individual businesspeople also have a perfectly defensible position in arguing that the decision and the risk are theirs to take. It would be a tragedy to them if their life’s work and their livelihoods are taken away from them for the sake of what is, in the final analysis, a pretty low risk.

So there’s the rub. Right on both sides. But for myself I tend to the business owners. If each one was allowed one hour to access their premises and retrieve vital items, the risk is low. Can we not trust these mature individuals to give their informed consent to that risk? We risk our lives every time we step out of our front doors, drive on our roads, go in for surgery, ski, swim, tramp, climb, skydive, smoke, drink, or a host of other ordinary every day activities.

Complete intransigence from government is starting to look like a bunch of authoritarians a little bit too much in love with their own power. (If you have any doubt about the bossy, petty little power tripper instincts of the average Nat then check out DPF on this very issue.) Why not trust the people to make their own assessment of risks and needs, and put in place a well supervised process that is as safe as it can get? Hey Nanny — whatever happened to informed consent?

45 comments on “Informed consent”

  1. billy fish 1

    One of the big issues for a lot of businesses in this disaster has been the lack of information flow- many reports (not sure what percentage of total) of people not knowing the status of the building or even if its been demolished until they saw it on the news or someone told them.

    Having seen the amazingly good work done by a lot of citizens during the quake to setup maps, pic reference sites, information or what where when I have got to thinking that maybe CD and the govt in general needs to co opt those people who actually know how to use Social Media to distribute information

    For business owners a mix of Google Maps, Street view and a simple registraion process could have provided the information the business oweners needed to, at least, the status of thier buildings

    1: Have a couple of cameras doing a street by street “street view” of all building in the cordon updated daily and if there is some way of simply showing the Red Sticker, Yellow Sticker etc status then good, link this to street view so the current (well updated daily view) can be shown. Add a status flag to each property
    2: Have registration option so if the status changes an auto notification (email or txt) is sent to registered addresses
    3: Not sure how this would be done – but need to have a confirmed business owner / delegated authority register – link this to the above and when the chance comes to visit the site messaging is sent out.

    All the above is purely about at least removing one minor layer of uncertainty as to status but it would be a start. Issue would be having the resources to do it but from what I can see having this option would actually reduce the load on CD by removing a lot of the unescessary communication caused by lack of information.
    And the other plus is there would be SOOOO many geeks who would just love to assist in making this happen you would probably find the information / utility snow balls

  2. Rob A 2

    I also can see both sides of the arguement but have to ask if the the worst does happen, who is expected to risk thier lives to save the business owner?

    I actually had a brief look around the CBD on Monday and can say that what has been shown on TV is only a small portion of the damage, the place is absolutely rooted.

    • grumpy 2.1

      So what makes you so special that you can go on tour but business owner’s can’t see their premises?

      Weren’t injured were you?????

      • Rob A 2.1.1

        I didn’t go on a tour dickhead, I was there on a job. And I made no mention of the red zone

        • grumpy 2.1.1.1

          Seems like exactly that is what you were saying.

          “I actually had a brief look around the CBD on Monday and can say that what has been shown on TV is only a small portion of the damage, the place is absolutely rooted.”

          Proof that not everyone that goes in dies.

          • Rob A 2.1.1.1.1

            I suggest you get a clue before posting next time.

            The CBD is somewhat larger than the red zone

            • grumpy 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Fair enough, access to the outer CBD is not the issue, access to the Red Zone part of the CBD is.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    I’m definitely on side with the business owners on this.

    For all the risks of aftershocks, this series has been much more mild than that from the 4th of September. The longer these buildings stay standing without significant collapse at any of them, the safer they actually turn out to be (alternatively they could just be on the brink, but ‘law of averages’ works in my favour here I think).

    • Jim Nald 3.1

      I’m definitely on side with the business folks too.

      With respect re “Government ministers yesterday reiterated that lives would not be risked to allow access to businesses” – Thought I read/heard somewhere that the business people wanted to go on to their business premises WITH their engineers and experts? So what are the Government ministers on about? More war time legislation to throw their weight around? Aye? Why not this Government just be true to form and go the full hog and try to declare martial law on Christchurch?

  4. Bright Red 4

    What people want more than anything is information. If they can see and understand the process that is leading to decisions being made and feel they have their chance to contribute relevant information, they’ll be happy. If things happen without notice and in a seemingly arbitrary manner, they’ll be pissed. Unfortunately, the CD controller seems to have a high-handed mindset, and Brownlee, well we know about Brownlee.

  5. Rich 5

    The fact this is failing highlights the reason why democratic accountability and the rule of law is a good idea.

    Gerry Browlee’s given himself and his cohorts total power without any accountability. They can’t be sued for wrongly demolishing a building, allowing the demolition teams to loot properties (apparently they can keep anything they want as “salvage”) or anything else.

    What’s needed is to end the emergency and introduce a proper legal framework. It’s ridiculous to suggest there isn’t time – Parliament is working three days a week on such urgent issues as licensing bouncers. If they worked three days a week on Christchurch issues, they’d still get a day off.

  6. vto 6

    The “too dangerous” is a crock if shit. People go into the red zone everyday. Are they just the superheroes with superhuman abilities to avoid the risk? Or are they just normal everyday people with high viz and hard hats and some minor training? Key has been in. Parker has been in. Prince Willy went in too I think. Loads of people go in everyday.

    The argument is shite.

    Alternatively, or rather alongside, the law relating to salvage rights chould and should be changed overnight to return the right of salvage (as opposed to demolition) to the original owner. Rights of salvage have not a single part to play in these circumstances. Rights of salvage stem from entirely different situations.

    Change the law today Brownlee. Show some balls. You may even get some kudos for such a change. Use your emergency powers. Go on. Do the right thing.

    Fuck Alan Edge and his Southern Demolition. And Frews. And the few others. They making a huge pile of coin from the demolition alone.

    • grumpy 6.1

      Wasn’t it Southern Demolition who pulled down Westende Jewellers, may pay to contact the owner and find out what went missing. Interesting footage on TV3 last night of demolition crew trying on clothing from a shop they were pulling down without informing the owner.

      I’m with you 100% on this one vto.

      And we have Rob A above skiting abnbout how he’s been in the Red Zone and can tell us all sorts of things – amazing he came out alive – eh?

      • Jim Nald 6.1.1

        Newsflash: Melissa the twit twits to ask why Gerry is politicising the issue by stopping people going into the Red Zone.

  7. Kevyn Miller 7

    How can anybody have any sympathy whatsoever for these business and building owners. These are the same scumbags who were bitching and moaning about council barricades in front of damaged buildings interfering with their business profitability before the Feb earthquake. The same scumbags who have spent the last 80 years refusing to anchor the facades and parapets of their buildings so that they would have been 80% less likely to fall into public spaces and kill innocent passers-by simply because it would cost them a few tens of thousands. The same scumbags who ignored repeated warnings over the last dozen years from seismologists and business advisors to prepare their business systems for a devastating earthquake because the odds of a Great quake on the Alpine Fault are 50/50 within 50years.

    These are the very worst types of capitalists – ones who are prepared to sacrifice the lives and well-being of neighbours and strangers alike to maximise their profits, always ready to challenge expert authority with strident arguments based on little more than an unhealthy mix of arrogance and ignorance.

    Civil Defence aren’t always going to be right but the “little guy” has been wronger and for longer.

    • grumpy 7.1

      Fucking bullshit, business owners have complied with every bylaw and regulation the Peoples Republic of Christchurch has thrown at them. Many owners of buildings damaged in the first quake wanted to pull them down but were given the run around by the greenies and bureaucrats.

      What an offensive little arsehole you are.

      • billy fish 7.1.1

        @ Kevyn “The same scumbags who have spent the last 80 years refusing to anchor…”
        @grumpy “wanted to pull them down but were given the run around by the greenies and bureaucrats”

        I think you can both take an equal help of bullshit pie with a good dollop of “offensive little arsehole” sauce

        Lets try and keep this one discussion seemly

        • grumpy 7.1.1.1

          The fact that a number of buildings should have come down after the first quake is Brownlee’s excuse for locking up the CBD. Remember the “old dungers that kill people”?

          To put the blame on building owners as Kevyn Miller had done is bullshit – you should know that.

          • Kevyn Miller 7.1.1.1.1

            Grumpy, What I have said is what the NZ Society of Earthquake Engineers is too polite and apolitical to say.

            • grumpy 7.1.1.1.1.1

              You mean too intelligent and sensible.

              If the NZ Society of Earthquake Engineers had anything to say on the matter BEFORE the event, no doubt they would have conveyed that to Local and Central government and the building code and local bodty bylaws would have been amended accordingly.

              Just what statutory requirements are you saying building owners have wilfully ignored in their quest for greed?

              • Kevyn Miller

                Your utopian worldview of government responsive is charming if naive. The fact is that the building code and bylaws have only ever placed a statutory requirement on building owners to minimise the risk of building collapse onto their occupants, they have never placed a statutory requirement on building owners to minimise the risk of building collapse outside of the building footprint. For older buildings the statutory requirement is still only for one-third of new building standard where a change of use application is lodged or 10% where existing use is continued. Ergo their “quest for greed” (which is substantially different from continuously wilfully ignoring reality to make a struggling business seem to be successful, which is what I originally argued) has never been statutorily limited, and after all that is Government’s raison d’être.

                • grumpy

                  So are you saying that building owners should have, out of feelings of altruism, (over the past 80 years) gone beyond the engineering requirements for their buildings?

                  What standards should they have adopted/designed to?

                  Interesting that the buildings causing the highest casualties were of relatively modern construction, one having been (I’m pretty sure) built by local government.

              • Colonial Viper

                If the NZ Society of Earthquake Engineers had anything to say on the matter BEFORE the event, no doubt they would have conveyed that to Local and Central government and the building code and local bodty bylaws would have been amended accordingly.

                The 1996 Inside NZ doco clearly shows that all the experts were up to speed with the earthquake dangers facing Christchurch.

                And still very little was done, money being the main reason why.

    • weka 7.2

      “How can anybody have any sympathy whatsoever for these business and building owners.”

      How can anybody lump those disparate groups of people together and accuse them all of doing the same things?

      asp: save

  8. randal 8

    its the kiwi way to walk around with tight underpants and boss others around.
    and to bend over backwards to anyone with a truck and a bulldozer just to prove you got the right stuff.
    blerkkkkkkkkk.

  9. tsmithfield 9

    I agree that there needs to be better information flow and access for business owners.

    However, the place is actually very dangerous. For example, a roofing contractor was just electrocuted because he touched a roof on a building that was live. Also, my accountants are in a building that is yellow stickered. However, they are right next to the much taller AMI building that has been red-stickered and is leaning in their direction. It could be rather dangerous if they were in their building during another decent shake as the AMI building could come down on top of them.

    No easy solution. So I don’t envy the task that Civil Defence have.

    • Bored 9.1

      You are right about not envying the task of Civil Defense. I have always been very aware that if you give somebody a responsibility / incentive to do something it is highly unlikely that they will accept any contrary instruction. Civil Defense primary responsibility is public safety, to expect them to move quickly and change the rules for anybody is entirely contradictory to their role. If I was in their shoes there is no way I would lay myself open to the charge (and possible legal charges) that I did not work toward public safety, and risked more life and injury merely because a businessman wanted to grab his gear..as you say we cant envy their position.

    • Lanthanide 9.2

      The roofing contractor, in the original report I read, was apparently working on a building undamaged by the earthquake.

  10. Alpha Sud 10

    Still running the line that it’s a government decision to demolish buildings, rather than a civil defence one I see. While you’re not as blatant as the standard blogger who personally blamed Gerry Brownlee the truth is that you know it’s the Civil Defence Commander who decides who gets in and out of the cordon, and which buildings get demolished.

    While you’re pushing the “authoritarian” line, please explain:

    1. If Labour were in Government, would Civil Defence still be running the cordon?
    2. How would it be less “authoritarian” for a politician, rather than a mandated civil servant, to be deciding who gets in and out of the cordon?
    3. Do you really believe that civil defence is not the appropriate authority to determine which buildings are safe, and which are not, to enter?
    4. What would be the consequence to civil defence if they did let building owners into buildings, and a building collapsed? Do you really think Civil Defence would not send search and rescue in after somebody?
    5. What decisions Civil Defence are making now under a National Government would be different under a Labour Government?

    Or could it be that the real point is yet again you’re trying to politicise the earthquake?

    • r0b 10.1

      Still running the line that it’s a government decision to demolish buildings, rather than a civil defence one I see.

      Still having trouble with reading comprehension I see. This post has nothing to do with the demolition process (which is on hold) – it has everything to do with access to buildings. And there, government is either calling the tune, or could be if it wanted to. From the post:

      Government ministers yesterday reiterated that lives would not be risked to allow access to businesses.

      Re your questions:

      1. If Labour were in Government, would Civil Defence still be running the cordon?

      I imagine so.

      2. How would it be less “authoritarian” for a politician, rather than a mandated civil servant, to be deciding who gets in and out of the cordon?

      It is no more or less authoritarian whether it is civil servants or governments. The question is how open is the process to reason, circumstance, the wishes of stakeholders, and so on.

      3. Do you really believe that civil defence is not the appropriate authority to determine which buildings are safe, and which are not, to enter?

      No.

      4. What would be the consequence to civil defence if they did let building owners into buildings, and a building collapsed?

      Depending on the circumstances and waiver in place, the consequence could be none. Like the waiver a patient signs before going in for risky surgery, if business people make an informed choice to take the risk, I’m suggesting that they should be allowed to do so.

      Do you really think Civil Defence would not send search and rescue in after somebody?

      This I think is the essence of the argument against my position. Yes I imagine that CD would try and rescue in the unlikely event that there was a building collapse with someone inside. And that would place them at risk, and that is undesirable. However, it should be limited to volunteers only, and of course CD worked in the CBD after the main quake and through all those aftershocks. Let me put it another way – if CD workers wanted to support these people in brief access to their buildings, should they be prevented from doing so?

      5. What decisions Civil Defence are making now under a National Government would be different under a Labour Government?

      Impossible to know, but I certainly hope that there would be better communication going on, and a greater willingness for different possibilities to be considered. Under the Nats we have people so frustrated and desperate that they are storming the cordon. Are you suggesting that the situation has been well handled?

      Or could it be that the real point is yet again you’re trying to politicise the earthquake?

      Or could it be that the real point is yet again that you’re trying to shut down any criticism of the government by accusing people of politicising the earthquake, and hence yourself politicising the earthquake, and so on and so on ad infinitum, doesn’t get us very far does it.

      A question for you then – just the one. What do you think the risk is in allowing 1 hour of access to a building in the CBD? How do you rate that risk compared to the loss of a life’s work and livelihood?

      • Alpha Sud 10.1.1

        Honestly answered and appreciated rob.

        “A question for you then – just the one. What do you think the risk is in allowing 1 hour of access to a building in the CBD? How do you rate that risk compared to the loss of a life’s work and livelihood?”

        I don’t know. I’m not a civil defence specialist. Off the top of my head, there’s a risk that an aftershock might happen and CD or USAR would have to risk their own lives by going in after more buried people. There’s a risk that CD would have to vet hundreds of people to determine whether they had a right to access a building.

        How many people are we talking about here who want to access buildings? Is it ten? Is it a hundred? Two thousand? Does every business manager who wants to access a building have some kind of verification saying that they’re entitled to be in a building? How do you ensure that every person you let in is not there to loot or steal? How much civil defence resource will get tied up in providing that one hour of access? Would you need to provide one CD worker to accompany every business person who wants to access a building to ensure that they only access the business premises they have asked for access to? How else would you ensure that the person didn’t enter other business premises also located in the same building?

        The purpose of the cordon is both for safety of life and security of property. There might be a need for better communication between CD and landlords, and landlords and tenants. But these guys are doing absolutely the best they can to provide safety and security in unprecedented circumstances. Not everything will run smoothly. Not every business person will be happy with an outcome if that outcome is that their business premises need to be demolished.

        I take your word for it that you’re not trying to score political points here. All I’m saying is that even as a lay person I can contemplate a whole lot of difficulties with large numbers of people flooding into a very dangerous area, and I trust that there are reasons for this other than the National government behaving in an “authoritarian” manner.

  11. ghostwhowalksnz 11

    I find it unbelievable that after a the first major quake business owners continued to keep valuable business records on the premises.
    Surely the first time was a wake up call.

    After all in a fire , there is no chance of retreiving ‘servers’ for example.

    • Lanthanide 11.1

      After the first earthquake, the Chamber of Commerce should have gotten a bunch of local disaster preparedness and backup companies together to give presentations to all of the local businesses. They could’ve offered discounted services to get the ball rolling.

      Did they do that? No. No vision.

  12. Rich 12

    What would happen if a demolition worker got trapped by a collapse, presumably civil defence would have to go in and rescue them? Like someone said elsewhere, they’re mostly just ordinary labourers (probably hired at minimum wage from a agency) with no magic superpowers.

  13. prism 13

    Looking at a book with details of nz historical events I see that Napier after their earthquake had to have buildings bulldozed to prevent fires etc. It seems that the authorities in Christchurch have slipped into that mode. And Gerry the Butt is giving direction to that action, he can break and spoil but has he been in business for himself? Doesn’t he understand the depth of resource in records and implements etc of people who have committed to their business and who have payments to make on it?

    People wanting to access their business/accommodation should receive a current briefing on what CD knows about it with the latest on any deterioration. Presumably there are still some falling masonry etc. CD can advise about what they know, and let the people affected decide. Then those people sign a disclaimer so if there is damage, be it on their own heads so to speak. All care by CD, but the people have to accept the responsibility of possible danger but this would be on a properly informed basis. They would be allocated time, wearing hard hats and protective gear, monitored to ensure safety perhaps by cellphone. If an event did occur requiring rescue, then it is another part of the recovery program that should be allowed for in the overall planning and budget.

    • Alpha Sud 13.1

      Oh please wake up. We’ve covered this multiple times already. Gerry doesn’t order demolitions. He isn’t even the civil defence minister. The civil defence commander, a public servant, decides what gets demolished based on safety.

      Already we’ve had one worker get electrocuted on a roof down there. The cordon is a dangerous place.

      • Lanthanide 13.1.1

        The building he was working on wasn’t damaged in the quake.

      • Colonial Viper 13.1.2

        Gerry doesn’t order demolitions. He isn’t even the civil defence minister. The civil defence commander, a public servant, decides what gets demolished based on safety.

        And who maintains oversight of the public servants?

        The Ministers. Brownlee and the other invisible guy.

        Please wake up.

  14. Lanthanide 14

    I’ll just throw this in here, since I came across it in this article and people have been mentioning conflicting things the last few days.

    “A Civil Defence spokesman said contracts often allowed salvage rights to the demolition companies, but Civil Defence had put in a clause to stop that happening since the February 22 quake.

    “Any demolition we are organising will have that clause – but if a demolition occurred before the February earthquake, then it would depend on the individual contract.”

    The Christchurch City Council website states: “Demolition contractors undertaking commercial or red zone demolitions are not allowed to salvage materials. Where possible, goods of value, such as business equipment, will be returned to the owner or tenant.” ”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-earthquake/4800768/Christchurch-CBD-businesses-to-be-boarded-up

  15. djg 15

    I saw the heading and thought this was about [ha ha very funny– r0b]

    Ha the anti-spam word: remove

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