Officials 'hindered efforts' of volunteers
SHANE COWLISHAW AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Christchurch Earthquake 2011
Officials hindered the efforts of Christchurch's Student Volunteer Army after the earthquakes, Young New Zealander of the year Sam Johnson says.
Speaking at the Emergency Management Conference in Wellington yesterday, Johnson said some officials had shown a "lack of respect" towards the thousands of students he had harnessed to help quake-hit residents.
"There was this large divide between paid salary employees and the volunteers, almost like they were doing us a favour to get us a little bit of information," he said.
Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson told the conference that empowering volunteers was an essential part of responding to a disaster.
However, too many people had been marginalised by authorities after the quake.
Specialists, not the public, were needed for high-risk tasks, but bureaucracy had hampered ordinary citizens' contributions at the "shovelling silt" level, she said.
"We can't afford to have good people turning into resentful people in a disaster."
Civil Defence needed to figure out how to work with communities, rather than try to mould communities into the model it wanted, she said.
Johnson told The Press other volunteer groups also experienced problems.
"[Volunteer] work sometimes is not valued as much, or prioritised as highly."
Christchurch City Council staff put in charge of liaising with volunteers had caused particular problems by being "inflexible", he said.
It had been difficult for the volunteers to get information they had needed to help with the city cleanup, he said.
"I don't blame them at all. I think different people had different appreciations for what we were doing."
It was important for those in charge to learn how to gather information about "what's actually happening on the street" and how to best relay that information, Johnson said.
"Everyone was doing their best, [but] what we're doing is trying to make sure that in the future we can capture that energy."
Council city environment general manager Jane Parfitt said she was surprised to learn of Johnson's comments.
"This is the first we've heard of Sam's issues ... We'll be getting in touch with Sam to discuss this."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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