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Councils welcome cyclone review

Wairarapa’s three councils are taking on board recommendations from a review into their response to Cyclone Gabrielle.

The review’s report said while Wairarapa residents were generally comfortable with the support before the cyclone, including public messaging and sandbags, frustrations emerged as conditions worsened.

The Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa district councils asked for an external review of their performance after the devastating cyclone in February.

Major flooding, slips, and strong winds hit parts of the country during the cyclone, which claimed the lives of 11 people.

The report into Wairarapa’s response, coordinated by the Wellington Civil Defence Emergency Management [CDEM] Group, found areas for improvement.

“Although various organisations were monitoring the cyclone as it approached and worked its way down the country, the Wairarapa emergency operations centre [EOC] was not activated until the morning of February 14 – the day the cyclone struck,” the review said.

The three councils monitored the developing situation through their own incident management teams.

Individual council incident management teams struggled to get timely updates on the impact of the cyclone to inform response efforts, the report said.

This resulted in the Masterton District Council [MDC] controller deciding to activate the Wairarapa EOC.

“The way the activation was done and the timing of the decision – when individual councils were already managing the impacts of the event through their own [incident management teams] – caused tension between MDC and the other two councils,” the report said.

However, the report said survey respondents praised the organisations that worked together once the emergency centre was activated.

“Community members, also, spoke positively about the efforts of front-line responders [response team, NZDF, emergency services and welfare support organisations like the rural support trust],” it said.

The purpose of the review was to identify areas to improve the region’s response capability.

It highlighted areas where the coordinated response had positive outcomes, like the level of support in rural isolated communities, delivery of food and medication, and evacuation efforts for severely affected properties.

Areas identified for improvement include:

A more coordinated response across the three councils earlier in the event. This would help with effective decision-making and the use of limited resources.

Local controllers from the three councils to follow agreed activation procedures.

Ensuring Wairarapa EOC functioned effectively and provided the required level of service across the region.

CDC chief executive Geoff Hamilton said he is proud of the staff who worked tirelessly for their communities during the emergency.

“As always, there are key learnings we can take away from events such as this, and it’s crucial we take on board the findings of the report and implement them across Wairarapa in order to be better prepared for future emergency events.

“Wairarapa has limited resources during emergencies and a coordinated effort is key to the success of our response, resilience, and recovery across our region.”

MDC chief executive Kym Fell said his experience at Wellington and Whanganui councils highlighted the need for community preparedness for such events.

“My team and I welcome this report and its recommendations,” he said.

“For our part, the MDC team are consistently looking at ways to improve education, community preparedness, and our response and recovery processes.”

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Janice Smith said that her experience of emergency events in the Far North highlighted the need for co-ordination between councils.

“Council is proud of the efforts of those who worked to respond to the Wairarapa impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“We are always looking for how we can improve and welcome the recommendations … which will help to strengthen our emergency management abilities,” she said.

Wairarapa-based MP Kieran McAnulty, who is currently the caretaker Emergency Management Minister and held that role during the cyclone, said civil defence is one of the most important responsibilities of local government.

“I congratulate the three local councils for doing this review and showing our region they take this responsibility seriously and aren’t shying away from seeking improvement,” he said.

“Cyclone Gabrielle is the largest weather event our country has faced. And with climate change there will be more events like this. Continually seeking improvement is the most important aspect to an effective response.” -NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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