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Will Auckland Save Wellington?

Will Auckland Save Wellington?

18 July 2002

If Wellington is hit by a major earthquake, who will go to the aid of our capital city, our seat of government, our second largest urban population? And how will a response effort affect life and resources in Auckland and other centres?

These are among questions that will be at the centre of the extensive and collaborative Exercise Phoenix being carried out between Auckland and Wellington from July 23-27.

The United Nations is facilitating the deployment of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Advanced Planning Teams from the United States, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand to participate in the exercise. The United Nations is also deploying a Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team to coordinate requests for international assistance.

Along with over 50 regional and national agencies, the exercise involves 20 disaster management experts from overseas.

The ‘scenario’ around Exercise Phoenix sees 530 people dead and thousands injured following the earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale which hits Wellington at 6:28am on July 23. There are collapsed buildings and extensive infrastructural damage.

Other major questions to be addressed through the exercise include: will our hospitals cope with the influx of patients and how do we deal with the welfare of evacuees; can we cope with the logistics of delivering medical supplies and other equipment to Wellington and how quickly can overseas USAR support be processed through Auckland airport.

Auckland Regional Council (ARC) chairwoman and Auckland Engineering Lifelines Group patron Cr. Gwen Bull said the UN’s participation is a first for New Zealand, and a compliment to continuing regional and national efforts in civil defence and emergency management.

“Collaboration efforts of this magnitude have not been experienced in recent history – we are greatly encouraged by the commitment that the UN has shown through deployment of the international USAR teams.”

Cr. Bull said that it was vital for the regions to go through this exercise and important that people knew about it. “Most people do not have a real appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes.”

“We are regionally following Government’s new directions and promoting local resilience, preparedness and self-reliance, in the first instance focusing on improving joint-agency planning. This includes an honest assessment of each organisation’s capacity, review of operational plans and the creation of new networks to integrate emergency planning,” said Cr. Bull.

James McPetrie, controller of Exercise Phoenix said that the exercise was a complex test designed to positively expose gaps in how New Zealand as a country, and at-risk regions like Wellington, plan for disasters.

“However, Phoenix is not just an Auckland-Wellington affair – in fact it will test theoretical capabilities for disaster support between any number of New Zealand cities or regions.”

“Phoenix will be vital practice in terms of how easily we can receive outside assistance and it will also build certainty around what we can expect in terms of support within New Zealand,” said Mr. McPetrie.

Mr McPetrie added that, in the spectrum of natural hazards, earthquakes are unique as there is little or no warning and the destructive wave can be over in a matter of seconds.

“Earthquakes are a living reality for the Wellington region, and with an event-probability twice that of volcanic activity in the Auckland region, the planning of our response and support is vital.”

Exercise Phoenix marks 5 years of work to achieve collaboration between the wide variety of agencies which embrace Auckland’s, and New Zealand’s, local government, energy and water supply, telecommunications, transport, and emergency and welfare services, as well as the overseas agencies involved.

See attached summary sheet of news opportunities and contacts for Auckland.

- END -

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