Down but not defeated - tech companies get back to work

'We are committed to staying here and helping to rebuild Christchurch,' says developer

They are grieving, they have lost their offices, some are living in houses without power and water, but they are not giving up.

Technology companies that were based in Christchurch’s CBD when Tuesday's earthquake struck have today told Computerworld that one of the best ways to help their city is to give them work. They have set up temporary offices in their houses and they want it known that they are back in business.

Edwin Dando, managing director of Clarus, which employs 12 staff and manages a pool of 60 IT contractors, says its important that the city’s economy keeps going.

“As with the last earthquake, the real problem will start in a few weeks time as people start to [try and] figure out how on earth they are going to pay staff,” he says.

“If we can continue, the money comes into the economy. People get paid and the spend money. The wheels of the machine start moving again.”

Dando has set up five desks in his house for staff, and others will be working remotely as and when they get internet and power.

Andrew Plimmer, CEO of Motim Technologies, a mobile marketing software company with eight staff and an international client base that includes Ford, Nike, Toyota and Coca Cola, says his office was destroyed in the earthquake.

After the earthquake hit he walked 25 kilometres to his home in Rangiora, where because of its location, he had power and internet. After determining everyone was safe and well, he emailed overseas clients to let them know they would be back in business as soon as possible.

“We got very human replies back. First and foremost people came back and said worry about the team first. If deadlines need to move let them know and they will deal with that side,” he says.

“We have been through this before so our clients understand that we can deal with a situation like this, but obviously the scale of this one is massive.”

Egressive founder Dave Lane says that his staff and their families are safe. “Miraculously, we are all OK. We were right in the thick of it and have some harrowing memories.”

Lane’s house has no power, water or sewage. But his business partner Rob Fraser’s house is habitable. Four staff are currently working from there, and another is working remotely due to personal circumstances. Lane says they have power and internet but no water, although people are distributing bottled water to houses in the area.

He says their hosting company Unleash has maintained service since the earthquake and that no client sites have gone down “even though the facility is right in the thick of it in Christchurch”.

“I suspect that even though the communications are sporadic, there will be a lot of other companies in our situation where they’re IT companies that are probably able to get back up and running very quickly,” he says.

“Don’t hold back sending work this way because its going to be what allows us to rebuild this place ... we certainly are committed to staying here and helping to rebuild Christchurch.”

Here are their stories in their own words:

Andrew Plimmer, Motim

At the time of the quake I was walking back to the office from lunch in the High Street city mall (near Cashel Street) - the rest of my staff were in the office One of my team had her daughter in an inner-city school within a block of our office and I walked her around to try to locate her, but she was not at their evacuation point and it was quickly apparent that the roof of the building had caved in. We evacuated all staff to safe areas, including Latimer Square that has been featured a lot on the news. Due to the issues with the mobile networks it took an hour to track down the location of the staff member's daughter but fortunately she was ok. As our cars are parked in a building attached to the Grand Chancellor we have almost certainly lost our vehicles, and had to walk out of the central city. I live near Rangiora [25km away] and walked through suburbs suffering severe liquefaction / burst water mains and so on, but eventually got to a point where my wife was able to pick me up. There were hundreds [of people] doing the same. After confirming the safe status of all the team I then communicated to clients and others to advise that our team was all safe and we will return to remote operation once people have their personal situations organised. This continued through until 3am on the Tuesday night. The team are now spread out with varying situations - a couple are in the city with basic services functional, others are with family with minimal services, and others have simply left town for the near term. First priority was to ensure people were safe and had time to sort out their personal situations, then gradually get people back on line and enact our remote operating procedures, which we have done before in September. With some are still without power and caring for family we can expect it will take some time until we all can get operating. As I also sit on various industry group boards I also am advising others in different parts of the country on the situation here and trying to help coordinate information on the status of different companies, though even now most are focused on basic personal requirements rather than businesses. I am not expecting to get back in to the CBD for a month at least, and it is highly unlikely our office will become operational for much longer due to damage in the area.

Dave Lane, Egressive

Three of us were actually on our way to grab a bite to eat and we were walking down Columbo street and we were right across the road from the buses that were flattened. So we were right in the thick of it pretty much. We were just very lucky to escape being crushed ourselves.

As soon as we felt the quake all of us dove out, we were underneath awnings and so on. The one that we were under didn’t collapse but the ones across the road did and trapped quite a few people. It was pretty harrowing.

We participated in trying to clear the rubble to try to lift up some of the awnings and we ended up helping some of the people that were injured that were walking around in a daze and we got a few people to hospital. But it was pretty grim and pretty bad news.

All of our houses have been affected to varying degrees. One of the guys sitting here working at the moment is no longer able to inhabit his house.

We have been able to set up shop, the guys were shrewd when they fled the building and grabbed all of the laptops on the way out so we’ve got all of our critical equipment. We were lucky that our hosting facility has never missed a beat. They are a crowd called Unleash. They’ve done a stellar job in keeping it all going.

Edwin Dando, Clarus

At the time, Mike Styring and I were in a Thai restaurant eating lunch. The restaurant was extensively damaged and we were extremely lucky to get out alive. We had to climb out over a pile of rubble and the scene that greeted was nothing short of utterly devastating. The roads were ripped up, there were people running everywhere screaming and crying, some with obvious injuries and blood. At the top of the pile of rubble I turned right to see Colombo Street down to Bealey Avenue in a pile of rubble. Then to my left a totally mangled road leading to a place where once the Cathedral stood. Water was rising up out of the ground and filling the street - a result of liquefaction.

Mike and I walked around in circles awe-struck by the complete disaster around us. After a few minutes we snapped out of it and decided to head to the office. We got two minutes down the road and found the PGC building.

At that point I realised this was a truly epic disaster and my thoughts went to my pregnant wife and kids. I left Mike with a pat on the shoulder and ran to the car and drove home. It took a long time as I skidded through mud and water all the way home. Traffic was heading the wrong way up one way streets and people were in a total panic, crying, screaming and freaking out. I struggled to drive I was shaking so badly. On the northwest side of town where we live things were a lot better. My wife Toni was shocked when she saw me as I burst into tears and was visibly shaking. She didn't realise it was bad at all - she thought it was just another aftershock as on our side of town things weren't very bad. We spent the next two days at home in a state of utter shock. There are army helicopters and planes circling overhead and news reports that defy belief.

His full account can be read on the Clarus website here.

* Smudge Apps, the mobile apps company profiled in Computerworld recently has just emailed to tell us that their staff and families are safe. They will be back to work in a temporary location on Monday.

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