Civil Defence

Civil Defence and Emergency Management

It currently costs Wellington ratepayers $2.27 million per year to fund WEMO (that's $14 per year for every man, woman, and child), which has done little to prepare Wellington for a disaster. We are one of the most unprepared cities in New Zealand.

In the event of a significant civil emergency in Wellington the seat of Government will move post-disaster to Auckland. There is a real economic threat that it may not return back to Wellington.

Building Resilient Communities

Principle One of the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Strategy [link is here] states that:

  1. Individuals and communities are ultimately responsible for their own safety and the security of their livelihoods;
  2. CDEM arrangements in New Zealand support and encourage local ownership of this responsibility;
  3. Individuals and communities must be able to care for themselves and each other, as much as possible, when the normal functions of daily life are disrupted. Arrangements to support this are best developed at the local level;
  4. Local and regional efforts contribute to the overall national capability, and;
  5. Central government intervenes where an event is beyond the capacity of local resources.

The introduction of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 saw a devolution of responsibility for Civil Defence from central- to local government. Yet despite Wellington Region and in particular Wellington City being at massive risk of a serious earthquake (remembering that Risk = Probability X Consequence) there is little more than lip service paid to the enablement and empowerment of communities to "own" their own safety and security arrangements.

Yet Councils should not be made responsible for achieving this outcome. This is the role of communities themselves. The role Councils play should be focused more on encouraging and promoting awareness and supporting attitude change. The Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) with their fancy building, flash sign-written vehicles, and $2M+ annual budget are promoting a false sense of security: when the big one hits WEMO are not going to be able to do a single thing to ameliorate or support communities in the short, medium, or long term. It will all have to come from within the communities themselves.

The solution? The LTCCP should acknowledge that the current way of doing things (nominally called "Civil Defence") is anachronistic and ineffective. Council should focus more on de-corporatising Civil Defence to empower communities to own and manage their own arrangements. There's a saving of $2M straight away - 4% of the required $50M savings.

Tsunami/Earthquake Planning

Report recommendations (C.2005) have not been followed – leaving Wellington economically vulnerable. For example, Lyall Bay has been identified as at risk to tsunami and earthquake (liquefaction) but has also been identified for intensified infill housing.

Emergency Response

There is a proposed practice of Wellingtons Preparedness for an emergency with a helicopter being used on Disaster Awareness week starting on 5 October. Wellington's location is such is that there will be little time. I have heard many experts state that the danger for Wellington is a tsunami resulting from the movement of the bed of Cook Strait. The reality of such is that the wave will be ashore before any warning can be given. One hopes the helicopter will have sufficient time to get airborne. Even with the warning being given, Can the areas subject to a tsunami (eg Lyall Bay) actually be cleared. I would suggest that grid-lock will occur as most residents “flee” in their cars. I suppose that at least after the practice is held, people will be aware of what is happening. Hopefully instructions can be heard over the sound of the helicopter.

On 1 October 2008, Wellingtonians were advised by that on 8 October a helicopter carrying powerful loudspeakers will, reasonable weather permitting, fly low over the central city and coastal suburbs for one hour from 6.00pm to 7.00pm on 8 October. The chopper will carry a new American public-address system that's specifically designed to warn as many people as possible, in as short a time as possible, about impending danger. A further warning was given the previous day on 7 October.

A few comments:

  1. "reasonable weather permitting" the helicopter would fly. Of course in the case of a tsunami, only days when the weather permits will a tsunami come ashore!! Strong winds the day before affected aircraft, grounding flights.
  2. The helicopter company was well warned when it was due to fly, how quickly could the helicopter get airbourne and to the south coast when a tsunami wave is bearing down on New Zealand and is noted 1 hours distance away?
  3. Could many people actually hear the helicopter? Most houses are sound proofed fairly well. Even older houses that are insulated for warmth are also by that insulation "sound-proofed". The more modern high rise buildings and central residences are often specifically designed for sound proofing from both external and internal sources.
  4. People in cars are unlikely to hear anything with most drivers having radios or CD players etc operating.
  5. Some suburbs are regularly overflown by helicopters on their way to either the airport, Queens Whar, Wellington Hospital etc. Another helicopter overhead will not attract any special attention (even one blaring away a message).
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