Emergencies come under spotlight

01:15, May 26 2010
tsunami
TSUNAMI WARNING: this sign did little to deter people from swimming at Onetangi when the beach races were cancelled on February 28.

Waiheke's councillor is urging residents to find out how isthmus emergency management authorities think Waiheke should prepare for a natural disaster.

Hauraki Gulf islands’ councillor Denise Roche wants people to attend an Auckland Civil Defence seminar about emergency planning and ask questions.

It will be on Thursday, June 3 at Ostend Memorial Hall, between 7pm and 8.30pm. Auckland City Council says it is essential to book a place by calling the Ostend service centre on 372 5905.

Ms Roche says the weather warnings on Sunday were a timely reminder that people should be prepared for the worst and have food, water, torches, a radio, and batteries on stand-by.

She believes the seminar will help residents get better prepared and offer a chance to quiz members of the regional civil defence team about how planning works for the community.

Ms Roche says the two tsunami warnings in the Pacific in September last year and this February highlighted emergency planning gaps on Waiheke, such as the lack of warning signs along beachfronts.

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She claims most islanders do not have a clear idea of where to go for help and do not know about the existence of designated emergency shelters or where they are.

And she thinks one of the reasons the Waiheke community is not well prepared is because civil defence is controlled by a regional team from the Auckland isthmus.

Ms Roche will be compiling a list of questions for the Auckland Civil Defence team and is inviting residents to contact her on 372 6578 or 027 209 7554 by next Tuesday, June 1 so she can send them all off prior to the meeting.

“I do see the need for national and regional communication for weather and tsunami alerts but, on Waiheke, we can’t even have our own civil defence signal or drills for our community because these have to be agreed to by the central coordinators for the region.

“When you consider that in the case of an emergency that effects the entire region we’ll be on our own here - and could very well have to look after thousands of day-trippers and holiday-makers - it makes no sense to me that we have to rely on Auckland Civil Defence to tell us what to do.”

Ms Roche says the community could and should take a more active approach by organising early warnings through text alerts, for example.

But Auckland City Council councillor John Lister, who is a member of the regional civil defence team, says it is impractical to have separate emergency control centres.

He says the team takes its lead from national legislation and works closely with the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

Mr Lister says the team recognises the island’s unique situation and that is why it is holding the seminar encouraging people to be personally prepared for an emergency.

“Waiheke is an important part of our city, and we are proud of the job we do on the island for emergency management and civil defence.

“We received lots of positive feedback from people on Waiheke after the tsunami warning earlier this year.

“In fact, Waiheke Community Board chairman and civil defence spokesman Tony Sears commended all involved for their team effort which ‘proved we can all work together to ensure our community and visitors are safe’.”

Mr Sears, though, says there is an argument for the island to have its own plans.

The community board has already been discussing better ways of letting residents know about disaster warnings but, at present, fire brigade and police sirens are not allowed to be used.

Mr Sears thinks Auckland City could help by trying to get the ruling changed.

He says any earthquakes or volcano eruptions would mean the island would have to rely on itself, but claims the regional emergency management team is not listening.

“Whenever I’ve tried to say Waiheke should have more power to control its own destiny in terms of civil emergencies, I’ve been told ‘no’.

“And it was suggested that perhaps I should go on an emergency management course.”

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