Jolt into action: Quake response questioned

LUCKY ESCAPE: A giant model eagle tethered to the roof Wellington Airport came down in the earthquake.
LUCKY ESCAPE: A giant model eagle tethered to the roof Wellington Airport came down in the earthquake.

Wellington's Anniversary Day earthquake highlighted an information gap between Civil Defence and rural mayors, with one left in "a void" after the shake.

The magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck at 3.52pm on January 20 near Eketahuna.

It damaged homes, cracked roads and left thousands without power, with the Wairarapa, Manawatu, Tararua and Wellington regions hardest hit.

"My first contact was with my own council staff. Any contact from Civil Defence as a group was quite a bit slower coming through," South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples told the Wellington region's Civil Defence Emergency Management Group yesterday.

"It was a pretty solid shake, I'm a rural person and I was wondering what the hell was happening out there. In that first hour or so there was a bit of a void." There was a similar issue in other parts of rural Wairarapa, she said.

Wellington Region Emergency Management manager Bruce Pepperell said the quake showed a need for better communication between local Civil Defence controllers and mayors. "Let's face it, we are never as good as we would like to be," he said.

Civil Defence managers had spoken about the need for better communication with councils.

"It's important that there's a strong relationship with councils because you rely on them to implement any decisions made in the emergency operations centre."

Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said he was in touch with his local Civil Defence manager within 20 minutes. "I had no problems."

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said while he did not have immediate contact with Civil Defence, a lack of damage meant he did not feel it was required. "Thankfully our region coped pretty well."

Pepperell said the earthquake highlighted the growing role of Facebook in emergencies. "People are sharing their information. They put information about road closures right throughout the Manawatu and Hawke's Bay on our site, which was interesting."

The Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) Facebook page has 37,330 followers, the largest in the world per head of population for an organisation of its type.

WREMO was investigating new technologies, for example Tsunado, a radio system for distributing alerts in an emergency, Pepperell said.

Civil Defence was investigating a system for sending out warnings by mass text alerts, the meeting was told.

A giant eagle used to promote The Hobbit film trilogy at Wellington Airport fell in the earthquake.

Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said the eagle was still down while the incident was investigated. A second eagle was still hanging from the airport roof but its supports had been strengthened.

The Dominion Post