Eruption warning delay prompts review
It took 100 minutes for Civil Defence staff to be notifiedCHRIS GARDNER
The Ministry of Civil Defence is being asked today why it took 100 minutes for Civil Defence staff in Taupo to be notified of Mt Tongariro’s eruption on August 6.
The inter agency Central Plateau Volcanic Advisory Group is meeting today in Taupo and the communications system is being evaluated.
Phil Parker, emergency manager at Taupo District Council, should have been informed of the eruption within 15 minutes, instead of 100 minutes.
"I received my first call at 1.30am from the Ministry of Civil Defence,’’ Mr Parker said. ‘‘We have raised this question with the ministry to find out whether the delay was at their end. It might have been that they did not get their information from GNS Science until that time.’’
Had the eruption been bigger the lives of the inhabitants of around 40 homes in the shadow of the mountain would have been put at risk.
John Callan, communications manager at GNS Science, said the institute alerted ‘‘a wide group of stakeholders including personnel at the Taupo District Council’’ at 12.34am. ‘‘Visual observations of Tongariro were not possible, so scientists had to rely on interpreting seismic instrument recordings. They wanted to be absolutely sure that an eruption had taken place before issuing an eruption alert.’’
It took up to another two hours for the information to get to Hamilton-based Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Group controller Lee Hazelwood.
‘‘If I was Phil I would have liked to have known in 15 minutes or less,’’ Mr Hazelwood said.
Residents and motorists witnessed the eruption and reported it to the Department of Conservation which passed the information to the Ministry of Civil Defence about 40 minutes later. The ministry, which gave the region’s civil defence organisation the lowest mark in the country of 44.7 per cent last year, spent an hour deciding whether to call Civil Defence staff.
Vince Cholewa, public information manager, at the ministry, said: ‘‘The people in the vicinity of an eruption are always going to be the first ones to know.’’
He said no system could be better than that.
Mr Parker has met with the locals and asked to be the first one they call if there is a next time.
The delay was compounded, later in the day, by an email problem at Waikato Regional Council where a situation report failed to be sent to around 300 people including Civil Defence officials, councillors and other agencies. The report, Mr Hazelwood said, should have been sent on behalf of the Waikato Region Civil Defence Emergency Management Group before 10 am on August 7 and he discovered it hadn’t when one of the agencies expecting it rang at around noon asking of its whereabouts.
The region council’s IT department discovered a problem with the server which they fixed, enabling the emails to be sent, and set up their system to notify users when emails were not delivered.
Mr Hazelwood was less concerned about the email failure than the delay in getting information to Civil Defence staff on the ground.
‘‘The people that needed to know, the people that were there on the mountain, the DOC people that had to evacuate the huts, they had been told,’’ he said.
Hugh Vercoe, chairman of the regional group, said communications could be improved by using faxes and texts as well as email.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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