Call for disaster volunteers to be paid
Christchurch Earthquake 2011
People who leave their jobs, families and holidays to volunteer after a major natural disaster should be financially compensated for their time, a royal commission has heard.
The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission is today hearing from a panel of experts as part of a public hearing on how New Zealand should manage buildings after earthquakes.
Peter Wood, emergency management adviser for the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management, told the hearing there needed to be a "pool" of adequately trained people ready to respond at any time.
The Boxing Day quakes in 2010 had exemplified this need, as many people were away on holidays.
A state of emergency was not declared, meaning it was up to territorial authorities to manage the event, and fewer national resources were available.
Wood said experts who volunteered their time and skills after natural disasters should be compensated or paid a retainer for "that public-good exercise".
"To come away from family commitments at times of need ... they need to be financially rewarded for this commitment," he said.
All panel members agreed there were no issues with mobilisation after the February 2011 quake, largely because of the lessons learnt from the September 2010 quake. A national state of emergency was declared.
Engineers from small firms, some of them owner-operated, who put their hand up to help assess buildings after the quakes were left with no income while they were doing so.
"If they volunteer, and some have, they have no revenue stream. We have experienced that. If they are really good, I would aspire that they are [compensated]," Wood said.
He said the uniqueness of the Canterbury earthquakes in terms of the intensity of the aftershocks compared with their magnitude had shown the need to maintain the expertise and "expect it to perform at all times".
Civil Defence had implemented a Learning from Earthquakes programme, which had identified the need for ongoing training as there was no guarantee there would not be similar quakes some years ahead.
Volunteers who gave up time and income to attend training should be paid for this time also, Wood said.
Commissioner Justice Mark Cooper backed Woods' view.
He said in a disaster, people would continue to volunteer.
If they were to be formally trained, which required time, there should be "no doubt that people should be paid as if they are at work", he said.
Panel debates power for council chief executives
Should council chief executives have more power in a natural disaster?
That is the question an expert panel has discussed on day two of the hearing.
Justice Cooper asked the panel if there was any merit in a new "tier" in the legislation to be introduced, which could be activated during damaging natural events that were not bad enough to justify declaring a national or local emergency.
Christchurch City Council regulation and democracy services manager Peter Mitchell replied in the positive.
He suggested the council chief executive should have the legal power to action "triage documentation", which could be written into the Building Act.
This would include having the power to have buildings demolished outside of the formal Civil Defence framework.
Mitchell suggested the power could be in place for seven days but be subject to extension.
The chief executive was appropriate because it was one person - there would be no need for meetings to be called - and Parliament had already "placed confidence" in that position.
It could also be implemented outside of a declared state of emergency.
Justice Cooper said Mitchell was talking about "the bullet rather than the trigger".
Mitchell said the trigger could be included in the building evaluation section of the Building Act.
He said the Canterbury quakes had shown there was a need for "structure" around the ability of a local council to evaluate buildings and make decisions on their fate.
The panel will today also discuss the assessment process, cordons, barriers to repairing, rebuilding or removing damaged buildings, and issues that arose after the quakes, concluding the two-day hearing.
The 11 experts are:
- Dave Brunsdon, director of emergency management consultant Kestral Group.
- Peter Smith, of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineers.
- Mike Stannard, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
- Peter Mitchell, city council regulation and democracy services general manager.
- Steve McCarthy, city council environmental policy and approvals manager.
- John Hamilton, of the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management.
- Peter Wood, of the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management.
- John Hare, Structural Engineering Society.
- Esther Newman, former emergency management adviser, Christchurch City Council.
- Tony Sewell, Property Council.
- Richard Toner, chief building officer, Wellington City Council.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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