New plan to strengthen disaster response

02:58, Dec 11 2012

An inter-agency plan aims to strengthen the role of Civil Defence so it can better respond to events such as the fatal Christchurch earthquake.

The Corrective Action Plan brought nine agencies, including the Fire Service and police, together to develop a more efficient approach when responding to civil emergencies.

It followed an independent review into the response to the Christchurch quake, which found that while overall emergency services performed well there were ways the process could be improved.

The review of the response to the February 2011 quake said there were weaknesses and tensions between the Christchurch City Council and Civil Defence that "put people and property at risk".

An inquiry into the collapsed Canterbury Television building, where 115 people died, heard that firefighters and police had "dropped the baton" by failing to ensure staff knew who was in charge, with a United States disaster-response expert saying three Fire Service executive officers had "struggled to respond effectively".

The action plan, released by Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain today, aimed to improve the strength of Civil Defence in New Zealand by adopting a more efficient inter-agency approach.

The plan involved the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, the State Services Commission, police, the Fire Service, the Defence Force and the ministries of social development, health, foreign affairs and trade, and business innovation and employment.

"The Corrective Action Plan is based around 10 themes, with co-ordinating agencies responsible for each theme and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management co-ordinating the overall plan," Tremain said.

The 10 themes included management and control, frontline response, emergency welfare arrangements, lifelines and information management.

Some of the actions were straightforward but others could take up to two years to complete, Tremain said.

The plan is largely based on the 108 recommendations made in the independent review.

Calls for territorial local authorities to no longer have control over the response to civil emergencies and for the ministry to reside within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, rather than the Department of Internal Affairs, were two of the four recommendations that were not adopted in the plan.

Recommendations that would be put into action included forming a group of highly trained emergency managers from across the country and developing a plan to better support health services and other welfare centre providers.

The review suggested there was a “lack of clarity” on incident control at specific sites affected by the February 2011 quake and recommended training by all emergency services in this area.

While the police did not agree with some of the review’s views, they have said that incident control at major rescue sites was included as a part of its updated approach to command training, the action plan said.

The Fire Service also planned to review its procedures and training in regard to effective incident control and would also work with the police on joint development of a training programme.

The ministry will report on the progress of the plan to the Cabinet in December next year.