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Christchurch quake response faulted

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 06/10/2012

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"Weaknesses and tensions" between the Christchurch City Council and Civil Defence after the February 22 earthquake "put people and property at risk", an independent review into the emergency response has found.

The report into the Civil Defence Emergency Management response to the disaster, released yesterday, found the response "can justifiably be regarded as having been well-managed and effective".

However, it said "the duplication of control . . . between Christchurch city [council] and the regional [civil defence group] was not only inefficient but put people and property at risk".

It recommended local government play no part in controlling future emergency responses, but that has not been adopted by the Cabinet.

The Christchurch City Council (CCC) and the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) group were "dysfunctionally divided" after the September 4, 2010 earthquake response, it said.

A "forced marriage" between the two after the February 22 quake "caused a degree of confusion, inefficiency and duplication. Cohesiveness was never fully achieved despite the efforts of many of the staff".

National CDEM director John Hamilton said there were some "tensions" within the Canterbury group before the February 22 disaster.

"If those tensions had been allowed to continue into the response itself, it would have made it difficult to co-ordinate and manage the response."

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the dysfunction may have been due to one person. .

"There was a person in [Canterbury CDEM] who was subsequently invited to move on . . . and I think a number of those difficulties could be sheeted back to that corner.

"It [the CDEM conflict] wasn't something I was hugely aware of. It was more within the Civil Defence group [rather than council] from where I was standing."

Hamilton said combining regional emergency management teams with the national team he headed was a challenge.

"It's like putting a team on the rugby field who have never ever played together before. You've got everybody from the All Blacks to the juniors from Aranui."

Despite the scale of the disaster, problems were "avoidable", he said.

"We should have thought about it [and] we should have practised it. The truth was we hadn't but we have now got recommendations and some things to pick up here."

Hamilton said a recommendation to take emergency response control away from authorities such as CCC was not necessary.

"If we were to adopt the recommendations the review has made it would have the tendency to take away from the council its responsibility . . . to manage the response as well as the readiness and the recovery."

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A recommendation that Civil Defence come under the control of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was also not needed, he said.

"If we were to move, while we may gain some profile we would miss out on the capacity and the support that we receive from a much larger department [Department of Internal Affairs]."

Recommendations accepted included training "a small cadre of personnel" in senior emergency management in disasters, closer links with businesses and community organisations in emergency response and the ongoing promotion of disaster preparedness.

The review made 108 recommendations.

A plan to implement the rest is due next month.

Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain said the review showed emergency services worked well overall, and their efforts were "courageous".

"There is always room for improvement and the report identifies some issues that need attention. These include management and control of the response, and gaps in training, capability and communications," Tremain said.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel criticised the timing of the report, at the end of a Parliament recess week, and lack of consultation. "This should be cross-party, this sort of stuff . . . if we are to genuinely learn the lessons."

POLICE HAD NO CHOICE ON FEB 22 - SENIOR OFFICER

Police had no choice but to react as they did after the February 22 earthquake, a senior officer says.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management yesterday released a review of the Civil Defence Emergency Management response to the February 2011 quake.

The review, which mostly praised emergency services, found major rescue sites, such as the Pyne Gould Corporation and Canterbury Television buildings, needed an "overall incident controller".

"The review considers priority should have been given to ensuring that tactical-level incident control was in place . . . and if this required an executive officer to be at a major rescue site to achieve it, then so be it."

However, Assistant Commissioner of Operations Nick Perry said the police response at major rescue sites needed to be seen within the context of the "unprecedented" scale of the disaster.

"The communication centre took something like 1600 calls within the first 15 to 20 minutes. At the end of the day we had something like 140 to 150 sites where rescue efforts were being carried out. If it had been one building complex we would've been in a position to put a formalised structure in place," Perry said.

"There was no time for a formal handing over. It was all hands to the pumps. Informally the command structure was in place . . . All in all I think everybody did a pretty amazing job in Christchurch at the time," he said.

Civil Defence Emergency Management director John Hamilton said the finding was easy to make "in the quiet and warmth of your office as opposed to standing outside a collapsed building knowing people were trapped and had lost their lives".

"Overriding the whole situation is the chaos, complexity and urgency that is driving it. Each little incident took on a life of its own."

The review praised the emergency response of the health sector and lifeline services such as Christchurch Airport and telephone and power companies.

- The Press

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