While most studies concerning how Universities respond to crises are based on simulations, we describe how the University of Canterbury responded to a real crisis, a series of major seismic events that caused significant disruption in 2010/2011. We focus on a single, first-year undergraduate biology course in which we modified our teaching strategies at short notice, introduced tutorials in tents, recorded podcasts, and set online quizzes. The University's policy on special consideration applications for performance impairment (aegrotats) required us to develop new ways of estimating student grades. Course surveys indicate few changes in student appreciation of the course for earthquake-affected students, and there were no measurable changes in outcomes for these students in the remainder of their studies. We learned many lessons including the advantages of a good working relationship with learning resource providers, having progressive assessment through the term and also having online course delivery. The positive attitude and availability of staff is also important, along with quick decision-making that reduces uncertainty. We suggest that these lessons are pertinent for any crisis situation where weather, health or political incidents prevent a class and its teachers gathering over an extended period of time.