Infrastructure on the east side of Christchurch is a mess.* The street in front of our house has been torn up since July of last year. First they tore it up to replace the sewer lines, then they patched it up for regular driving use for a month over Christmas, then they tore it up again in January to replace the water lines.**
Water outages aren't uncommon. But we rarely get notice. Whoever turned off the water to make a repair knows he's done it, but nobody's telling folks up the street when it's about to happen, or how long it'll last. On 24 December, after the 23 December aftershocks, the water went out before dinner, came back on when it was time to do the dishes, but was out again when it was time for the kids' baths. With a bit of forewarning, we could have filled the bath early. Awesome that the Council workers were out there on Christmas Eve Day fixing things - great effort! But we could do better with a bit of back-end support.
First, tie each property to a contact cell phone number or email address. Make it a voluntary online registration system where people input their own details. Next, whenever a city crew is going to be making repairs that knock out power or water to a set of houses on the street, have them key into the system the set of houses that are going to be affected along with a terse explanation. Then, the computer automatically pushes out text messages or emails to those who are going to be affected. The database requirements are trivial. Send out the notice as soon as you know the work needs to be done. Even 10 minutes warning can be really helpful. The city worker defines the affected area (or, the tap that's going to be turned off is linked to the affected addresses), then the system pushes out notifications automatically.
Minor annoyances like water or power outages are an awful less annoying when you can plan around them. This morning, we had water at 6 am but not at 6:30. If anybody had told us they were about to turn things off, we could have had everyone in the shower early. Impossible for Council to phone everybody or to drop leaflets for emergency work, but an automatic push-notification when they've decided that they're going to have to do something would be easy to implement and would make life a bit nicer.
Added advantage: if the City ever needs to quickly get notice of whatever out to most folks on a street, it's simply done.
* Note to any international full-fee students considering the University of Canterbury: the West side of town, where the University is located, is almost entirely immune to this nonsense. Stay in Ilam or Avonhead and you'd probably not even notice there'd been an earthquake.
** I could have the order wrong on those.