Wellington Scoop

Earthquake highlights lack of emergency planning

Press Release – New Zealand Resilience Trust
An earthquake in the early hours this morning is another reminder to emergency planners that Wellingtonians are living on a ticking timebomb.

The earthquake and aftershock that struck the capital city once again will shift the public’s focus on Wellington’s vulnerability. Many people were shaken awake by a shallow 5.2 magnitude quake that hit Cook Strait at 2am.

This is the sort of nightmare that Civil Defence volunteers warned about earlier this year, aiming criticism at the Wellington City Council for failing to engage with the citizens of the city. There was a hue and cry from the city’s Civil Defence volunteers about the lack of support from Wellington City Council. What has happened since then?

Peter Dunne waded into the debate, as well as some other MPs. Little was heard from Councillors, although Ngaire Best – ostensibly the ‘Portfolio Leader’ of Civil Defence – showed her face at the sometimes-hostile public meetings. That we have heard hardly anything from Councillor Best, nor any of the staff of the local emergency management office since those meetings should ring alarm bells.

In the meantime several groups in the region have been working hard behind the scenes to build resilience at the local community level. Transition Towns has been a powerful movement, spreading the word about the need to become more sustainable and less reliant on a system that could break down at any day.

The New Zealand Resilience Trust has been advocating for more empowerment of people who want to help – especially when it comes to dealing with adversity – and recently launched ‘Civil Resilience’, a movement to complement (but hopefully not replace) the hard work of our Civil Defence volunteers in the community.

Trust Executive Director Jarrod Coburn says that the traditional way of approaching community preparedness is flawed. “How the government measures preparedness is a joke,” says Mr Coburn, “they ask a tiny percent of the population over the phone to tell them how many cans of food and bottles of water they have stored. They ask if they have an ’emergency plan’ at home and at work. That tells us nothing about the level of preparedness of a community.”

Mr Coburn says the biggest flaw of all is the perpetuated lie that after three days the government will be able to provide for everyone in a disaster. “Telling people to be prepared for three days is tantamount to promising them that on day four there will be food and water and medicine. Think about it – how on earth are we going to get 300,000 litres of water per day into Wellington City three days after a devestating earthquake?

“The New Zealand Resilience Trust has been successfully educating people to store enough water for at least three weeks. Yet we are criticised by the State for sending a confusing message,” says Mr Coburn, “Well the gloves are off: people are at risk of dying because of the poor advice that government is providing. There will be blood on the Minister’s and Mayor’s hands if a more concerted effort is not made to fully engage and support communities to prepared for disaster. A good way to start is to tell us all what is going on!”

Further information, including a recent paper presented by Jarrod Coburn to the World Conference on Disaster Management, is available on the New Zealand Resilience Trust website www.nzrt.org.nz.

More about the earthquake:
Aftershocks expected


  1. ViV, 29. August 2009, 11:35

    Well said Mr Coburn. I attended one of the two meetings held to discuss the lack of Civil Defence and Disaster Preparedness in Wellington. I can say I was totally unconvinced by Councillor Ngaire Best and have no faith in either Local or Central government looking after or preparing me or my community for a disaster.

    I have looked at the NZRT web site and applaud the concept.

    It’s a shame the WCC can’t see the value in what the NZRT is attempting to achieve. But as it’s not their idea and they can’t control it so they wont support it.
    Would you expect any thing less from bureaucracy??????

  2. The City is Ours, 29. August 2009, 21:21

    Just today I received a web-alert from the WCC’s new Emergency Preparedness Manager suggesting the 5.2 jolt in Wellington came as a welcome reminder to the citizenship to get prepared for emergencies.

    Why wait for the next jolt? Just sound the siren once a month to remind the citizenship about their preparedness, I am sure Mr. Medonca could manage to push a button once a month?