Friday, April 12, 2024

‘Don’t sideline valuable rural resource’

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Farming leader urges civil defence planning for natural disasters to make use of local knowledge and expertise.
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By Neal Wallace and Gerald Piddock

A Hawke’s Bay farming leader hopes changes to civil defence management of natural disasters will use the knowledge and expertise of people in rural communities.

Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence has committed to overhauling its emergency management systems in the wake of a critical independent review into how it responded to Cyclone Gabrielle last year.

The review, led by former commissioner of New Zealand Police Mike Bush from Bush International Consulting, found shortcomings in the region’s civil defence preparedness and response to the cyclone.

Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway said rural groups, which operated under Rural Advisory Group banner during the event, were effectively sidelined, their expertise and knowledge about what was happening and where, largely ignored.

“That is something Federated Farmers and rural groups would like in the future because we had a lot of knowledge but we weren’t take notice of to the extent our input was valued.”

One of the review’s 75 recommendations is for regional councils to better manage the build-up of silt and gravel in rivers, something Galloway said is needed given the extent towns, orchards and valuable infrastructure are sited on river flats and flood plains.

Galloway said the cyclone reminded rural people that they need to fend for themselves for an extended period during a natural disaster.

“Whether that is having generators or more fuel on hand than they have previously, we do need to be prepared to be isolated for an extended period.”

Federated Farmers board member and Tairāwhiti farmer Toby Williams said his district’s civil defence response, while not without fault, had learnt from earlier disasters, such as the 2018 Tolaga Bay floods.

Protection work in response to earlier events also lessened the impact.

“It wasn’t our first rodeo.”

The district was also still under a state of emergency from Cyclone Hale when Gabrielle struck, so community hubs and emergency controllers were already operative.

“In our region those in change had a good understanding and connections into the community.”

The civil defence review was this week presented to the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Joint Committee – consisting of the region’s four mayors, the regional council chief executive, and mana whenua.

The committee said it accepts all of the findings of the review, saying that “our region’s emergency response system – whilst attempting to do the best it could under extremely challenging circumstances – was fundamentally overwhelmed by the scale, pace and magnitude of the event.”

The review’s findings include recommendations across local, regional, and national levels. 

“Regardless of the complexity, what is clear is that as a region, we need to be prepared to undertake a complete overhaul of our approach to civil defence to ensure that our communities are better prepared to manage or mitigate the devastating impacts of an event like Cyclone Gabrielle.” 

The review panel gave nine Tier 1 recommendations and a further 66 Tier 2 recommendations.

Tier 1 recommendations include overhauling the current Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) system, developing regional disaster reduction and readiness plans, central government to build capabilities at regional and local levels and ensuring a recovery lead is appointed early in the response phase.

The review found that the region took a “best case scenario” response rather than a precautionary approach and that this optimism was intensified by the lack of situational awareness underpinned by communications failures, power outages, and a lack of reliable, timely and accurate data.

These factors created significant blind spots and led to some critical mistakes.

The review also highlighted low multi-agency operational experience that contributed to the inefficient co-ordination and utilisation of resources.

The committee members said they would do everything possible to ensure meaningful change occurs.

“Whilst it’s clear that there are no silver bullets, together the joint committee is united in its commitment to working with our CDEM co-ordinating executive group and council partners to develop a detailed action plan over the coming months.”

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