Board fires broadside at Council over disaster recovery plan

Phelan Pirrie fears lives could be lost unless Auckland Council boosts its rural response strategy.

Rodney Local Board has slammed Auckland Council over a “gaping hole” in its approach to civil defence and emergencies, saying it has no capacity to cope in rural areas and has made no progress in preparing for such events during its 10-year history.

Deputy Board chair Phelan Pirrie, who is also station officer at Muriwai Volunteer Fire Brigade, said Council was completely unprepared for disasters and people’s lives were at risk, something that was highlighted during storms last year.

“We’re actually in a worse place than we were 10 years ago,” he said. “I’m really deeply concerned about this; we’re putting people’s lives at risk.”

Mr Pirrie made his comments at last month’s Local Board meeting, where a new draft Council strategy, Pathways to Preparedness: A Planning Framework for Recovery, was presented for feedback. He said there was little point looking at how the region might recover from a disaster when it hadn’t dealt with how to cope with one in the first place.

He pointed out that rural communities on the west coast had been left to fend for themselves for weeks when storms in April last year cut power and communication. It had been almost impossible to get any kind of useful response or action from Council.

“This plan doesn’t address any of that stuff,” he said. “My concern is we could have a situation in which we’re completely unprepared as an organisation.”

Mr Pirrie said the situation had been compounded by Council disbanding or withdrawing support from an established network of local community response groups in the past few years.

“We’ve done all this before. We had all the groups and we managed to undo it all,” he said. “We’ve got a pile of documents about emergency management, and reference plans, and every few years for some inexplicable reason, it’s started all over again. And what has been a casualty of that is a community level response network – most of the groups set up have disappeared, and those that are left are not being supported by Council.”

Council’s principal recovery advisor, Wayne Brown, said the draft document did not address any of those concerns and he could only speak about that strategy. He did say, however, that work to shape up operations would be addressed in future.

Board members voted to send lengthy feedback on the document, saying it was not fit for purpose for rural communities and should be redrafted to include disaster response. It said Council should reinstate local civil emergency groups and provide adequate training and resources for them, as well as reinstating rural civil defence reporting centres and the use of local halls and maraes as temporary community shelters.

The Board also recommended that the Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management group reviewed the extensive disaster planning done by the former Rodney District Council, much of which seemed to have been lost.

Council was also urged to factor in that power cuts in rural areas also meant the loss of water and sewerage for many, making their needs more urgent than urban centres, and to review how its contact centres were trained to deal with a region-wide emergency.

“Urban-based contact centres were completely out of touch and provided erroneous advice to rural communities during the April 2018 storms, with promises of assistance that never eventuated,” the Board noted.

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