Early beginnings

On the 4th of September 2010, Christchurch was struck with a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The Student Volunteer Army was initially started with the creation of a Facebook group which served as a platform where people could find  information about how to volunteer. Over the next two weeks we facilitated volunteering through providing transport, food, and logistical support for over 2500 students. We focused on low risk areas during the immediate response period, and as a result the SVA cleared over 65,000 tonnes of liquefaction.

Far greater damage was sustained on the 22nd of February 2011, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Canterbury region. There was devastation in the aftermath of the quake and our communities continue to face emotional hardships from this even now. In overcoming the challenges after the first earthquake, we became more efficient and effective. As an example, we used everyday technology to improve communication to successfully dispatch thousands of volunteers within a three week period.


The challenges

While the central task was the mass-deployment of volunteers to shovel liquefaction from properties, a strong focus of our efforts was directed towards the well-being of residents. We achieved this by having a visual presence in the streets, by giving out hot meals, clean water, and  offering guidance. The SVA also supplied and managed operations for various organisations including multiple government departments, Civil Defense, and the Christchurch City Council. Our objective was to increase the efficiency of response services, for example delivering chemical toilets and information pamphlets, laying sandbags, staffing data entry, and manning call centers.

One of the greatest challenges we faced after both earthquakes was to locate the areas where volunteers where most needed. With the help of Geoop.com, we designed a mobile management system whereby residents could register their need for assistance via a free call number, text message service, or online. Each job was examined and prioritised by our call center. In delegating team leaders to guide small crews to these sites, the SVA cleaned over 360,000 tonnes of liquefaction in over 75,000 volunteer working hours. The Facebook page had over 26,000 followers after March 2011 and continued to act as a platform to organise and coordinate volunteers and non-skilled labourers in Christchurch communities throughout 2011.

One of the easiest resilience measures we can take is to empower children and youth and ensure they are actively involve and contributing to making their cities and community resilient to disasters. The students’ work in Christchurch is a great example the whole world can learn from.
— Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction

Now and towards the future

At present, the UC Student Volunteer Army has established itself as an organisation that prides itself with empowering of students to volunteer in Christchurch. SVA is an incorporated society and is governed by an elected committee made up of University students. It is an affiliated club to the University of Canterbury Students Association, however, its doors are still open to non-students.

The founders of the earthquake clean-up also established the Volunteer Army Foundation Trust. This trust acts as an advisory board for the SVA and provides continuity for the club. The trust is working in collaboration with other groups, seeking to further the development of volunteering in New Zealand, and youth involvement in disaster situations.