Ipact 2010 Emergency Management In The New Millenium

  • Jack Elder
Internal Affairs

Good afternoon and may I, at the outset, thank you all for the hard work you've put in, not just since Tuesday but through your preparation in the months leading up to this workshop.

This workshop grew out of a visit to New Zealand 12 months ago by James Lee Witt, Director of FEMA, and his meeting with John Norton, the new Director of Civil Defence. It is somewhat more modest than what was originally suggested but I am quite sure it will prove to be just as effective.

Being a small country New Zealand recognises the importance of developing and maintaining international relationships in all areas of expertise. Emergency management and civil defence is one of them and we are indeed fortunate to have been able to attract so many "wise heads" to pool their thinking here in Christchurch. These last few days I am sure will prove to have been much more than just a talk fest. What you have been dealing with and will continue to grapple with are measures which may ultimately be the difference between life and death for many of our citizens.

As you're no doubt aware, New Zealand has been taking a new direction in emergency management. Our challenge is to develop an emergency management structure where citizens, communities and infrastructures are safer from the impact of emergencies and disasters.

Until now, there has been no system that co-ordinates all the planning and resources necessary for effective emergency management. In the past, our focus has been mainly on responding to emergencies when they happen. However, by identifying and managing the hazards in our communities through a systematic risk management approach, and anticipating and preparing for events before they happen, we can reduce the effects on our communities and our daily lives. After all, it's the consequences of an event that matter, not the event itself.

Emergency management has been under the spotlight in New Zealand lately with a series of calamities across the country..... floods in the King Country, Kapiti, the Far North and Pukekohe and fires in Central Otago. Four of the five resulted in declarations of civil emergency. The capacity for the different regions to cope was severely tested and, with the exception of the Far North, systems worked admirably. That is not to say there haven't been glitches but we learn from our shortcomings and aim to avoid them in any future disaster.

One of the aims of this week was to foster international co-operation and identify areas for collaboration.

As we approach the new millennium the world will certainly be watching New Zealand. We can expect the international community to show considerable interest in what's happening to our infrastructure as New Years Eve turns to New Years Day 2000. Will the Y2K Bug have been squashed in time? Will the clock flick over without an alarm being sounded?

In many ways New Zealand could be a test-bed for all the fears expressed and precautions taken worldwide as the year 2000 arrives.

Like all good risk managers the Office of Emergency Management and Civil Defence has established a project to minimise public risk associated with the Year 2000 computer issues.

It is establishing a collaboration centre to co-ordinate links with the utility sector .....organisations involved with water supply, wastewater, electricity, gas, telecommunications, broadcasting and transportation. Any of these failing could have a direct impact on the community.

The centre will create a local and national picture of Y2K problems should any unfold.

Scenarios are being developed of the consequences of failure and the responses required.

These moves are part of our underlying philosophy in the changes taking place that we need to empower communities to plan for emergencies by making choices based on good information and knowledge of risks and the impacts of the risks.

New Zealand is in taking a comprehensive, risk management approach throughout a whole country. We have the opportunity to establish new standards in international best practice, standards that will see other countries follow the example we set. This workshop will help us do that.

New Zealand is always ready to help other nations affected by disaster. Apart from helping those in need it also serves as an insurance against the time when we may have to look to the outside world for assistance in the wake of a major disaster. We pride ourselves in having a "can do" mentality. We have much to offer the world, earthquake engineering for example, but we also acknowledge that we don't have a monopoly on managing risk and mitigating the effects of natural disaster.

Out of this week's workshop it is hoped new tools and skills for emergency management will be developed.

We are nearing the end of what the United Nations declared as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The decade is a commitment by member states of the UN to motivate concerted international action that can protect people and societies from the worst effects of natural hazards. It is based on the understanding that there is sufficient scientific and technical knowledge to save lives and property loss from natural and similar disasters through more extensive application.

Disaster prevention is universal in its relevance to all countries. It also cuts across the interests of multiple sectors of society. There is however an increasing concentration of population and asset values in cities, with many of them located in high-risk zones. Modern societies, and those emerging to participate fully in the global economy, possess an infrastructure easily susceptible to disruption from natural hazard, if preventive actions are not planned and taken in advance.

Through global communications, or even at first hand, most of us have witnessed the awesome power of nature at its most destructive. Our geography sees us more vulnerable than most to such threats as earthquake, volcanoes and tsunami. This gives New Zealand added impetus for reaching out and maintaining close relationships with other countries with similar vested interests, such as those represented here today.

A concerted global effort is required to create a culture of prevention for a safer 21st century. Scientific research, professional abilities and practical experience can all contribute to the empowerment of local communities to make the commitments necessary to apply the benefits of disaster prevention.

We have the knowledge. We need the will. All that is necessary is to apply the wisdom.

What you have achieved here this week I am sure will contribute to achieving safer communities in each of our countries.

Thank you once again for your contributions and I look forward to learning of further developments in this area.