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Aftershock - a commentary

A commentary on the recently aired TV3 docu-drama "Aftershock".

Aftershock is a two-hour dramatisation set in Wellington, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami. There were a number of false assumptions and factual errors made in this programme, although the overall portrayal of the devastation was realistic.

Key points we would like to raise, for general consideration, are as follows:

1. In a disaster so large the Regional Council would have immediate 'control' (by law) and once elevated to a national emergency then the National Controller would take charge.

2. Wellington does not have a volunteer civil defence force capable of reporting back within 13 minutes of such a cataclysm. In reality it can take up to 48 hours to establish, safety check, and staff a civil defence centre. It takes more than 13 minutes just to set up the radios!

3. Government departments in Wellington City are woefully unprepared for a disaster. We have just completed analysing business continuity plans from every government department and many do not acknowledge or plan for a major earthquake.

4. The programme totally ignored the efforts of spontaneous volunteers and the wider community, instead focusing on an army of professionals. Reality would more likely be that leaders would emerge from communities and carry on search and rescue and welfare functions separate from the Council.

5. The CEO of a local body does not tell the Controller what to do in a declared civil emergency. The Controller is the one in charge - and ultimately the one responsible for every life and piece of property in the City.

It was mooted toward the end of the programme that following such a major emergency the seat of government would shift away from the city not come back. Our research supports this assumption. What was not taken into account - and what many people choose to ignore - is the economic disaster that will befall the city in the event portrayed by Aftershock. A high percentage of the workforce of Wellington are employed by the government: take these people out of the city and you end up with a larger version of Picton.

The only way to reduce the short- and long-term damage in such an event is to build resilience well in advance of any such calamity. Government should stop wasting money on traditional civil defence practices, and start talking to communities to build a resilient New Zealand.

You can click HERE to read a commentary on Civil Defence and Emergency Management from NZRT Chief Executive Jarrod Coburn.


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