"Project Phoenix" Ak Regional Council Seminar

  • Jack Elder
Civil Defence

So, we've heard about the event, a "designer" earthquake of 7.5 on the Richter scale on the Wellington Fault.

The effects have been assessed; disruption of services, loss of property, deaths and injuries.

John Norton has talked of national arrangements for managing a major emergency.

My role this morning is to talk about the demands that're likely to arise from a major emergency.

Just picture the immediate aftermath of a major shake in the capital. ....shock, alarm, panic even among the population. General chaos all round as hopefully we are able to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.

Given all the hard work and preparation that has been put in by our own Ministry staff and the local authorities and emergency services, a smooth response and recovery operation will swing into action. We've seen something of this in the last couple of weeks as the west coast of both islands coped with flooding.

But Murphy's Law may well be lurking in the background too!

What sorts of things spring to mind when you place yourself in a devastated Wellington. General chaos, cries for help, demands for help; in short, massive disruption of daily life. The normal processes of supply and demand torn apart.

Seven years ago the Centre of Advanced Engineering at Canterbury University produced a study of Wellington's Lifelines in an earthquake. It examined in great detail the likely effects on water, sanitary and stormwater drainage, gas electricity, telecommunications, broadcasting, transportation, building services etc.

These community infrastructures provide the utilities, services and linkages which allow modern society to function and develop. As the report pointed out these lifelines are the means by which we support our day-to-day activities and the means by which we respond to disasters and emergencies.

By their nature, lifeline infrastructures extend throughout the communities of a region and for most emergencies or disaster situations, impacts are localised or restricted to discrete parts of the infrastructures.

But, in a major earthquake, with potential impacts covering a one hundred kilometre radius or more, the total extent of a region's infrastructures, so important to the recovery process, is vulnerable to major damage and disruption.

In the aftermath of a quake in the capital all sorts of people, groups will be demanding priority treatment. That is where the need for co-ordination becomes immediate.

It may be necessary for the Minister of Civil Defence to declare a Level 3 state of emergency. This will give central government a major role in co-ordinating resources. The level of disruption and logistical difficulties will probably be beyond the ability of the local Emergency Management Group to manage.

Resources from all around New Zealand and overseas if necessary may be called up.

Getting them into the capital will be difficult. Priorities will have to be set so that essential needs are met. Roads into the capital may be impassable through slips, or worse. Wellington airport may be affected. Can we get helicopters into the area. Where would they land?

Resources for the impact area will be scarce and there will no doubt be strong competition for what there is.

We could well have plenty of one thing and too little of another essential. So allocating these resources is a problem.

Two days down the track things will probably be relatively orderly. It's the immediate aftermath that concerns us.

New Zealanders have a reputation for being quick to respond to the needs of folk overseas who've been the victims of major disasters. We would like to think that the aid we offer is relevant and useful.

Would that be the same for us if we're on the receiving end. International arrangements and offers of help need to be dealt with . Uncontrolled gifts create a potential management problem. Where're they going to be stored when they arrive. We need space so that goods can be sorted.

A real danger is damaging the local economy further. What effect will gifts, unsolicited or otherwise have on the local economy. We don't want to see local traders driven to the wall through our actions. We need to ensure that normal economic activity is restored as soon as possible.

I have made the point in other fora that I am always impressed with the preparedness of volunteers who sacrifice their time to help out. It's actually a very impressive characteristic of New Zealanders. We couldn't do without them.

A major quake in Wellington will bring a horde of volunteers wanting to help.

It's very interesting that emergency services of different sorts, be it surf lifesaving, sea rescue, mountain rescue are usually, almost entirely, staffed by volunteers and they do it very well.

I think we want to preserve that.

The voluntary input actually has its own special strengths because by its nature it involves people in the community which is a good thing. You can't leave it just to the professionals. Many of you will be only too well aware of how reliant you are on volunteers. They are the cornerstone of Civil Defence.

Without the community having pre-planned there wouldn't be a civil defence.

But these volunteers will create their own demands. They will need feeding, watering etc. And they need to be doing something useful.

People of the right type will be in demand. A range of skill sets are targeted by Civil Defence. The younger, agile and physically fit people with initiative, the first to be called on in an emergency; tradespeople

who're able to rebuild after an emergency; professional people with good organisation and communication skills, commonsense and logic.Structural engineers will be in demand if there's major property damage.

Priorities will have to be established....Restoring essential services will be at the top of the list.

What about the inhabitants. Who should stay in the city and who should be encouraged/ directed to leave. Remember, when essential services are disrupted, sustaining a population is a real problem. Anything that can done to ease the load must be done.

And there's more than just the physical needs of the capital's residents. Increasingly we have become aware of the needs of the "whole person".

Here, more volunteers can provide the support network for family, neighbours and other volunteers. The primary aim for volunteers is to be the eyes and ears of the Civil Defence Centre and for individuals and the community to be prepared.

Relatives and friends from outside will want to get in touch. Those affected most by the quake will need to know what is going on. They will need help to confront their feeling of "powerlessness". Their need to know will place extreme demands on the public information people, who will need tact and understanding to deal with them. Frustration, aggression even, will be present.

As the community pulls itself together after the initial trauma we will turn to issues of reconstruction.

The Earthquake Commission will play a key role in funding domestic repairs. New Zealand has the advantage of very wide domestic insurance cover, which, through the Earthquake Commission, is extended to earthquake events.

They, and the Insurance Council, have put a good deal of time and effort into planning for the flood of claims that would follow as event such as this one.

We have over 90 per cent of our houses covered; compare this to the USA, where the typical figure for earthquake cover in high-risk areas is under 30 per cent; or Kobe, which had only three per cent of dwellings insured against the quake which caused so much devastation.

This means that at least one party of the reconstruction problem ­ how to pay for repairs-is covered for most homeowners. The only remaining problem is how to find a tradesman and the required materials at a reasonable price.

Finding a tradesman to carry out necessary repairs will be a struggle. Let's face it, it's often difficult get one in the normal course of events. And, in the aftermath of an earthquake, as the demand outstrips supply what will the price be? There will be claims of profiteering. What will the government's role be in this? Should "the market" be left to regulate prices? Should the government confine itself to advising on what is a "fair" rate.

As the fabric of Wellington crumbles should we rebuild exactly what was lost? Would we want to replicate some of those ugly tower blocks on The Terrace? And some of the Capital's streets which terrify Auckland drivers, should the opportunity be taken to realign them in the inner city? What would this do to the character of Wellington?

The Lifelines Project I mentioned earlier brought together an exceptional amount of valuable information and was certain to prove beneficial in future.

Analysing the interdependence of lifelines produced some solid information on their relative importance.

One of the most successful features of the project was the involvement of a wide range of professionals from the scientific, engineering and service authority backgrounds.

The project succeeded in raising the awareness of many affected people and provided a data base of information about Wellington's Lifelines and the hazards they face.

Perhaps the most important conclusion from the project was that information exists for lifeline organisations to asses vulnerabilities, make loss estimates, determine mitigation measures and allocate priorities. This can help achieve cost-effective and worthwhile reduction in their exposure to earthquake risk.

This brings me to the final point I want to make this morning, the necessity to plan and prepare, not repent and repair. Planning for emergencies is good management and common sense.

Risk is always with us. Just like Murphy's Law, whatever we do there's a chance something will go wrong and it's up to every one of us to manage risk and manage it rationally.

Among the Lifeline Project Report recommendations were: All organisations with significant lifeline assets should formulate earthquake preparedness plans to help minimise the overall impact of a major earthquake.

To do this they must establish clear goals in regard to their functional capability in the period following a major earthquake, and establish a formalised approach to mitigation.

Looking at the impressive list of participants in this seminar I am sure residents of Wellington can rest easier.

It tells me that we are today more prepared to cope with the results of a major disaster. But that is not a signal to relax. There is much to be done.

There will always be the unexpected. If we are primed to cope with the expected outcomes of a major earthquake or similar emergency then we will be that much better placed to respond to Murphy and his mayhem.

There is now I believe a culture emerging throughout the community of comprehensive risk management.

We all have a contribution to make to that concept as does this seminar. I thank the organisers and the Auckland and Wellington Regional Councils for the opportunity to address you today and I look forward to seeing the results of the workshops when they're finalised early next year.