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Queensland Floods

Hi I’m Jason Forbes, Xero Account Manager based in Brisbane. The last week has been quite an experience. We still have a long way to go.

December rainfall was incessant with Brisbane’s wettest December on record in the past 150 years. 2010 was the third wettest year on record for Queensland. Australia and Queenslanders were empathetic for northern QLD towns such as Bundaberg and Rockhampton devastated by flooding. Empathy quickly turned to shock and grief as flash flooding in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley just west of Brisbane claimed lives.

Predictions of flooding exceeding the Brisbane flood of 74 seemed almost unreal. There was an initial sense of denial or complacency from my friends and family as the disaster began to unfold in seemingly slow motion. However the compelling site of endless debris coming down the rising Brisbane River was not only an indication of the damage occurring in outlying area’s but an ominous sign of things to come.

When the Brisbane River burst its banks the threat became visible and already building sense of urgency kicked in.

I live two suburbs away from Yeronga – a Brisbane suburb severely affected by the flooding. I helped one friend sandbag his house however as waters rose we were left wondering sandbagging would enough. I helped another friend move important belongings out of his out house and larger items to the second floor. I then shared his fear and uncertainty as he walked away from his home in the face of the unstoppable rising water.

There were quiet moments where the reality of what was happening became overwhelming. Seeing the power and ferocity of the rising Brisbane River first hand was sobering. Witnessing homes slowly being engulfed was numbing and surreal.

Fortunately fear and helplessness could be temporarily muted by helping others.

This family had returned from holidays just in time to start removing the essentials. Neighbours and strangers jumped in and helped

Mucking in and helping had the added benefit of seeing neighborhoods, suburbs and a city all pull together. People who’d secured their own houses helped their neighbors. Strangers in outlying suburbs rallied and came to help families evacuate. There was an incredible sense of unity and compassion – a great testimony to the human spirit and people of QLD.

At the height of the flooding I had family and friends cut off and surrounded by rising waters. Another friend watched as water levels rose close to the height of our sandbagging but remained safe. Other friends had been forced to evacuate as their houses were swamped.

The night the Brisbane River peaked was a sleepless night for most people close to or effected by the floods. It was a reprieve when the river didn’t quite hit the expected flood levels saving some properties. However feelings of relief were quenched by early morning images of the devastation.

The Internet in a disaster

Throughout this past week the power social media has been invaluable. It has been extremely empowering to have access to live, streamed crucial information coming through quicker than radio or television.

From the Brisbane City Council website I was able to identify not only the threat to my family but also highlight the threat to friends and family in the predicted flood zones
http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/media/Fig127_12000_Inun_south_2000.pdf. The City Council website also helped in preparing with sandbag locations – http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/#sandbag

From the bureau of meteorology website I was able to access river levels live – http://www.bom.gov.au/fwo/IDQ65389/IDQ65389.540198.plt.shtml
Monitoring upstream river levels in Ipswich provided 30 – 60 minute window of what was about to hit Brisbane -http://www.bom.gov.au/fwo/IDQ65389/IDQ65389.040831.plt.shtml

Facebook provided instant updates from the Queensland Police whose updates became invaluable, provided a sense of control and corrected much misinformation http://www.facebook.com/QueenslandPolice

The energex website helped prepare for planned power outages as the power began to be cut across Brisbane – http://www.energex.com.au/network/asp/electricity_interruptions.asp

Using hash tags #QLDfloods #BNEfloods #thebigwet from within Twitter also provided extremely timely, instant and immediately useful information both from emergency services and individuals.

Traditional media such as Television – although streamed live online http://www.abc.net.au/news/abcnews24/ – proved to be less timely with information being reported 30 – 60 min after I’d found out through social media sources. There was a moment where I had an epiphany as I realized traditional sources of information had been surpassed by new technologies. Live, real time information had empowered and informed those who were plugged in allowing for better decisions to be made in a life threatening situation. Unfortunately not everyone is aware of these new information sources. We are at the forefront of and exciting era. Internet technologies as an enabler can improve many areas of life – especially in times disaster.

As floodwaters recede the huge cleanup has begun. Even though the threat to life has gone, the generosity and community spirit continues to be felt with armies of volunteers helping with the cleanup.

Impact on business

Right now we’ve only had to think about the impact on family and friends but over the next few weeks the impact on people’s livelihoods will hit home. Here are some quick links I’ve found.

ATO have granted an automatic monthly extension to businesses in flood effected areas for December Monthly Activity Statement lodgements. Also on this page is other ATO assistance available, such as reconstructing tax records: http://ato.gov.au/corporate/content.asp?doc=/content/00266886.htm

Businesses who have lost their financial records can contact the emergency support information line: 1800 806 218

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released information to assist you when your employees or your workplace is affected by a natural disaster. You can find the information here:
http://www.fairwork.gov.au/media-centre/latest-news/pages/20110105-Has-your-work-been-affected-by-floods-or-other-natural-disasters.aspx

The Queensland Government has announced that the victims of Queensland’s floods (residents in declared disaster zones) can now apply for free replacement birth, death, marriage or change-of-name certificates. They can apply at a courthouse or a Queensland Government Agent Program office or phone the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages on 1300 366 430 or email BDM-mail@justice.qld.gov.au

Government assistance is available for small business – http://www.business.qld.gov.au/risk-management/flood-assistance.html

If you live in or near an affected area you can assist with cleanup here – http://www.volunteeringqld.org.au/

If you can’t physically help your able can donate here – http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html

What happens next?

It’s still very early days and there are still many people waiting for news about their loved ones. Many places won’t have electricity for a while so we’re only just starting to be able to plan what happens next.

Thank you to family, friends and colleagues for your support.

 

Read more about Company News

 

9 comments

Neil Benson
14 January 2011 #

Hi Jason, my wife’s family’s home in Yeronga was spared, although my father in law had to resuce his mother in law on his shoulders through shoulder-deep flood water.

And while all the websites and online updates were useful to those of watching aghast from afar, lots of people in Brisbane are still without electricity (as you mentioned) so I fear that online information is out of reach to those who probably needed it most.

ad_pro
14 January 2011 #

A useful observation from Neil there. And while we’re at it, can someone tell me what Xero are doing to actively support the people in Brisbane?

Michael Mori
14 January 2011 #

Hi Jason, our prayers are with you guys at this horrible time. We came back from holiday to a flooded house due to a burst pipe from the prolonged cold here in the UK, but after looking at the TV images of what has happened to QLD, forgive me for using the word “flooded” in this sentence.
Best, and I mean best, wishes to you for the rest of the year.

David Kime
14 January 2011 #

Jason – we in the UK have been watching the story unfold and I am sure that I speak for the other UK Xero users when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with all of you guys over there.

Mother nature is a powerful force and from time to time she reminds us all just who is in charge.

Rod Drury
14 January 2011 #

@Adpro. Our immediate concern has been to support Jason, our staff member, and ensure he has ample time and any resources we can provide to help his family and friends.

Over the next week we’ll reach out to our Xero partners and customers to see what meaningful assistance we can provide.

For the Christchurch earthquake, as well as a donation, we offered to support partners in a number of ways including offering them space in our offices to work.

It’s early days so we’re still considering how we can best help. Traditional accounting software vendors are offering replacement media but that doesn’t really apply in the SaaS world and the biggest cost will be reconstructing damaged records. I think there is some work we can do in developing processes for reconstructing records from bank statements that might be of assistance.

What is your company doing? How would you suggest other businesses can help?

Rod

Toni McCulloch
15 January 2011 #

Well said Jason! I agree completely.

I spent more time looking at FB/twitter than I did watching the news on TV/online. For me it started with a community page re the floods in Bundy. The sharing (on that page and others since) of news, photos, stories, queries/support, etc was something I’ll never forget.

Thankfully my friends still had access to their cars to charge their phones which allowed them to continue posting updates (and reassurances of their safety).

Thanks again for sharing Jason :)

smallfurrything
15 January 2011 #

I’d like to reiterate what @David Kime said; we in the UK are all wishing anyone affected by these floods, all the very best.

@Rod Drury. The question about recovering from disasters, whatever their nature, is an interesting one, as an online tool like Xero not only provides access from anywhere but also provides an interesting off-site back-up. However recovering data from it is not so simple.
One can export and publish management reports, however a few tools sprang to mind that would be very useful:
1. Being able to select and print ALL invoices (receivable and payable), not just those awaiting payment. This is useful outside of disaster recovery as well, as being able to just print off a month’s invoices whilst doing end-of-month accounts would save time, rather than printing each off.
2. The ability to print off and/or publish account statements, when you view them in Bank Accounts. At the moment, you have to copy and paste into word or print the page from the browser.

These occur to me at this moment, I’m sure there are extra tools that would useful in the arena of printing off activity; like if you could upload receipt photos to Xero from a mobile, so the electronic Xero receipt/invoice had the image of the original. That would certainly help reduce the amount of paper receipts we have to file and store.

Just some ideas.

smallfurrything

Steven
15 January 2011 #

Hi,

We had two bookkeeping clients from Melbourne go on a driving holiday a week ago to Queensland and got the mother of all shocks with the floods.

One client was hospitalised, and is now ok recouperating at home in Melbourne. The other was also at home in Melbourne now, is wondering how much of the water has damaged his belongings.

We also had a major business services supplier in Brisbane CBD, get flooded out, and Im not too sure how that goes for processing orders for company setups and trust setups, going forward.

To top it all off, my very own mother had a friend and her husband also drive to Toowoomba when they were hit by a wall of water and are now on an “extended holiday” that was not intended to be that long.

A national accounting association in Australia – CPA Australia – also called to ask how I can help our fellow Queensland accountants get back up on their feet.

I am aware of one poor soul who had her CPA practice AND her clients businesses washed away by the Toowoomba floods.

Whilst all this was going on in Queensland , and is now also happening right here in western Victoria, I have signed with an insurance broker that has a national Australian group of referrers. One of them is now me.

The idea is to rebuild and provide people with the opportunity to to minimise the risk of ending up destitute sooner rather than later. I would hate to see this experienced by anyone.

If I can be of help to anyone , please let me know via our website, and I will get the issue responded to within 4 business hours.

We are professionals and we are also mature adults.

Dont be a stranger!

Thank You………and stay safe.

Steven Thomas CPA

David Kime
15 January 2011 #

I agree with smallfurrything, we med some way to drill back to receipt. In an ideal world it would be great if a client simply scanned all of their invoices and receipts and then when the bookkeeper entered them they “linked” it to the scan. Would help remote VAT review tremedously

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