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Government Inquiry Welcomed By Council

A Government inquiry into how Emergency Management teams in the North Island reacted during the extreme weather events of early 2023 carries some good examples and learnings from Tairāwhiti.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz said the report released last week after an eight-month inquiry, has been welcomed by Council.

The report focused on the readiness and response of councils whose regions were worst affected by Cyclone Hale, the Auckland Anniversary Floods and Cyclone Gabrielle – which all happened over six weeks in 2023.

The 150-page report was based on more than 200 interviews and 144 submissions from people affected by the extreme weather of early last year.

Ms Stoltz said there were lots of good examples in this report from our region.

“The importance of relationships was strong in this report. It highlighted how connected we all are with existing relationships and systems already in place.

“When our region was cut off for almost a week, we all relied on each other. Radio and satellite phones became the only means of contact other than face-to-face.

“We welcome the acknowledgment in this report for the well-established and embedded emergency management processes we have in place for severe weather events.

"There are always lessons to be learned at each new event and our team will be carefully considering all recommendations."

Particular mention was made of the Tairāwhiti Coordinating Executive Group (CEG) structure and collaboration.

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The report said it was observed members of the Tairāwhiti CEG knew each other well and were used to working together, making it easier for leaders and their teams to be effective, even when communications systems were compromised.

“The Tairāwhiti CEG is an example of the benefit of role clarity, strong relationships, candid conversations and a strong knowledge of local communities. It has a wide range of discretionary members including iwi chief executives and officials from the Harbourmaster, Kāinga Ora and MSD. The strong relationships built before the event were particularly important given the many intersecting roles of the CEG members during an emergency,” the report said.

The inquiry was led by John Ombler CNZM, QSO, Julie Greene, Rangimarie Hunia and Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO, KStJ (Chair).

The report also said Tairāwhiti was one of the areas where pre-developed plans and processes were implemented, where tools were used to build effective situational awareness, and that experience was drawn from previous events and exercises.

The inquiry aimed to identify lessons from the severe weather events and make recommendations for the design of New Zealand’s emergency management system to improve readiness for, and response to, future emergencies.

The inquiry leads said that even if their recommendations were fully implemented, that alone would not result in a fit-for-purpose emergency management system.

“Without adequate investment in risk reduction and readiness, the impacts of disasters will continue to be devastating,” the report’s preface said.

Council Chief Executive Nedine Thatcher Swann agreed.

“We need a change to the funding model to improve investment in the emergency sector’s capability and capacity as recommended in this report. Our primary source of funding for Civil Defence in our region is through the rates we collect.

“Rate funding alone limits the ability for councils across the sector to invest sufficiently as we will always be burdened by balancing multiple activities and affordability.”

Ms Thatcher Swann said this report, along with the Mike Bush report into the Hawke’s Bay response, will be considered by the Coordinating Executive Group and lessons learned will be incorporated.

Tairāwhiti and Bay of Plenty councils were also acknowledged for their experienced Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) groups.

Tairawhiti Emergency Management Group Controller Ben Green said the report (and previous reviews) have consistent themes that come through.

“Tairāwhiti has well-tested systems and processes given the significant number of operational events we have responded to.

“There will always be areas for improvement, however regional leadership comes to the fore when dealing with events of this scale.”

Mr Green said what’s vital is that leadership and collaboration apply across the whole region and across all agencies and entities that align to a common focus.

“The current settled phase of weather we are in now focusses on readiness; working directly with community groups connecting whānau to hazards with the simple message of be prepared, have a plan and a ‘grab bag’ that can sustain you for 48 hours should you need to evacuate to survive.

“There are some systems and processes the report seeks to highlight as gaps. However, our team has a number of operational systems that are an exemplar with some being adopted for national use.

“We’ve been very active in addressing the operational gaps since last year and this continues.

“Given the operational experience the team has, we have hosted several external engagements with other regions that seek to get an insight into how we do business,” said Mr Green.

Read the full Report of the Government Inquiry into the Response to the North Island Severe Weather Events

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