Wellington Scoop

WREMO – what a disaster


by Geoff Palmer
A couple of years ago, I was heading up Kent Terrace towards the Basin when I spotted a problem on Canal Reserve – that strip of land that separates Kent and Cambridge Terraces. Someone had fallen near the intersection of Elizabeth Street and needed help. I hurried across to see if there was anything I could do.

According to a motorist just stepping out of his parked car, an elderly man heading towards him on the footpath seemed to suffer a fit then “went straight over backwards”. The man was unconscious and still fitting. I dusted off my ancient first aid training, checked his breathing, got him into the recovery position and supported his head with my balled-up jacket. The fits eased but he remained unconscious.

Several other people arrived. A blanket appeared from a nearby business. Someone called 111, and I kept an eye on the patient until the ambulance arrived. It did so smartly, and the still unconscious man was whisked away, hopefully to a full recovery.

The reason I mention this is because of what I thought afterwards: What if this incident had occurred in the immediate aftermath of a serious earthquake?

Imagine the scene: emergency services are overloaded, the roads are full of debris and the cellphone network’s down. What would be done for an unconscious person with a head wound who was in need of prompt medical attention?

Back in the old days, I’d have known exactly where to go to find a stretcher to help transport the victim to medical care. Back in the old days, there was a Civil Defence container in the grounds of Clyde Quay School, just a few hundred metres up the road in Elizabeth Street. But that’s long gone, plundered by what’s known as WREMO – the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office – who apparently insisted all such supplies be centralised. Quite where they are now, I don’t know. I just hope it’s not somewhere in the CBD. (Anyone see Featherston Street after the 2016 quake?) Clearly, no one in WREMO has heard the term “single point of failure”.

But it doesn’t stop them blowing their own trumpet. Several times recently I’ve encountered a paid ad on Facebook from them. You might have done so too:


So I did what they suggested. I took a look at the guide for my local emergency centre, the Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay Community Emergency Hub Guide.

Page 4 is supposed to contain a Facility Map. That’s what the page is headed, but all it contains is this message:

Clyde Quay School
Under discussion – A map of the venue is still to be sourced.

Page 6 contains instructions for Accessing the Hub:

Locate keys
The location of the lockbox is marked on the Facility Map in this guide.

And that’s all. Fallen at the first hurdle. Where is this mysterious lockbox?

‘It’s marked on the map.’
‘There is no map.’
‘Oh, no, we’re still discussing that …’

The document detailing this useless information is dated November 2017.

When I noted this omission on Facebook, a friend in Hataitai responded saying she’d found the same thing in the instructions for Hataitai North.

So I conducted a quick survey. There are 37 Emergency Hubs in Wellington City. None of the dozen or more I looked at have location maps to enable recovery of the keys to access the damn things. None! From Seatoun to Crofton Downs, Worser Bay to Churton Park, they all bear the same legend: Under discussion. Even the most recently updated one. (Grenada Village, December 2018.)

Still, at least most of them give you a clue where to start your post-disaster treasure hunt: Brooklyn School or the Karori Recreation Centre, for example. Miramar and Aro Valley residents aren’t so lucky. All the latter get is:

Under discussion – A map of the venue is still to be sourced.

… not even a hint of where to begin looking.

WREMO may be surprised to learn that natural disasters don’t keep business hours. The 2016 Kaikoura quake hit at two minutes past midnight. Imagine if it had been an 8.8 instead of a 7.8 – which is to say, ten times stronger*. Imagine the fun you could have playing Hunt the Hub by torchlight in what’s left of Aro Valley!

What’s in the Hubs anyway?

Bugger all, it seems. According to Page 3:

The Hub has a basic start-up kit consisting of an AM/FM radio, maps and a Civil Defence VHF radio that allows communication with the wider official response if phone lines are not working.

And that’s it! Not a blanket, not a stretcher, not even a first aid kit, apparently.

The WREMO message is very clear. In a natural disaster, it’s every man (and woman) for themselves!

*Earthquakes are measured logarithmically so an 8.8 would be ten times stronger than a 7.8.

Geoff Palmer is an author and freelance writer who lives in Wellington. This article was first published on his blog.

WREMO defends its policies


  1. Local, 29. May 2019, 16:39

    Clearly it’s more important for the Council to close and maybe demolish the library in case of a future quake than to ensure adequate civil defence hubs are stocked and their locations marked? And what about all the people living in the CBD. What resilience plans are there for eg. adequate localized water supplies in every apartment block?

  2. steve doole, 30. May 2019, 3:35

    My mum used to practice radio operation and other skills for disaster contingency with Civil Defence at Kelburn church hall decades ago.
    How sad this service has declined to almost nothing of value, which is alarming.
    My mum lived through the Napier earthquake in 1931, and related her family (excluding father) abandoning Napier for several months. Apparently a naval ship, perhaps called Veronica, was nearby, and provided some care and equipment, and perhaps discipline. I can’t imagine Kiwis generally now having discipline or fortitude after a disaster, let alone knowledge of where to find say 300 stretchers for casualties, or even splints and bandages. Who knows how to arrange a morgue or even a generator for a ‘dressings station’, let alone a field hospital, or shelter or sanitation for say 10,000 people after pipes break?
    Documents WREMO has available for downloading appear to be written by a corporate flunky with no experience in disasters. Priorities in the WREMO annual plan are;
    Documenting plans
    Capability Development (Skilled People)
    Another document is titled Welfare Plan, but doesn’t seem to mention minimum capacity to respond to disaster, nor being able to sustain or revive surviving population. WREMO won’t provide much help in the next disaster. Fingers crossed again then.

  3. City Lad, 30. May 2019, 18:07

    Wellington is the most vulnerable city in New Zealand for earthquakes, and Geoff Palmer’s impressive article highlights deficiencies in the inability of WREMO to perform. Inner-city open space remains at a premium. An application for yet another large office building on the waterfront is now in the pipeline, and is a perfect example of poor council planning by swallowing up more precious open space.

  4. WellingtonRuined, 30. May 2019, 20:56

    Great article, this should be published in every newspaper in Wellington, posted on neighborly, and shoved into the mouths of every useless you at the Wellington City Council, especially the Mayor and his disregard for what ratepayers want.

  5. Hugh Rennie, 31. May 2019, 13:18

    Well done Geoff Palmer for raising this. I have lived in Thorndon for 21 years and have never heard of this “Hub” – yet we have two local community societies with newsletters plus websites. Having resources, food supplies etc may be an old and costly idea – but when were we told that this was discontinued?
    So I look at the link provided by WREMA for Thorndon and it says “Thorndon School” but then it says “Thorndon School Under discussion – A map of the venue is still to be sourced. Areas of the venue available for use as a Community Emergency Hub, and areas that could be hazardous and should be avoided are to be confirmed.”
    So is there a Hub (map or no map) or isn’t there? Which areas are hazardous? The demolition of Thorndon buildings post-Kaikoura suggests we have some hazardous areas.
    Full marks to Geoff; Fail to WREMA

  6. Paul, 31. May 2019, 16:40

    Really? What happened to good old Civil Defence? Everybody, but everybody understood what those 2 words meant. But no, corporate flunkies market themselves as experts at everything but are truly experts at obfuscation only.

    Remember: ex is a has been and a spurt is a drip that comes out under pressure

  7. Paul, 31. May 2019, 17:44

    @ Hugh Rennie: I live in Kapiti. Used to live in Thorndon, born and bred through to 14 years of age before we shifted to Northland.

    Guess what? All the links here have “x under discussion,” so obviously some flunky (kindest and cleanest word I’d use for them) raking in the the moolah doing sweet stuff all, but showing off plenty of pretty pictures and flow charts. Bet they also spend up large at local cafes and coffee shops. On our dime, as the Yanks would say.

    As an aside, my family owned 2 properties in Thorndon, one in Murphy Street and another in Turnbull Street. Adjacent btw. Murphy got burned down due to some teenage vandals, fortunately no one living in it at the time, and the council refused to 1) permit us to build a replacement residence because it was required for widening the road for the Murphy Street offramp of the motorway and 2) refused to allow us to sell it on the open market due to 1). Everybody knew that the widening was never going to happen, especially as the American Embassy had been allowed to encroach the supposed widening land. So we had no option but to sell the property, but we made them buy Turnbull as well. What’s there now? Wellington Region Emergency Management Office. And that really annoys me, and my siblings. A LOT!

  8. Trevor H, 31. May 2019, 18:56

    I seem to recall the Council’s disaster preparedness strategy revolves around community singing and sharing homegrown fruit. This will be required for the first 100 days until outside help arrives.

  9. Steve Doole, 4. June 2019, 12:10

    If you are interested in some support that was fortunately available for the Napier earthquake, read here. WREMO is yet to show how Wellingtonians can even subsist after a similar event.