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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Parliamentary report on the Canterbury earthquake emergency response

A Parliamentary committee has found that the Government's emergency response system was not adequate to the needs of the February 22nd earthquake.

Brief, and generally a reflection of what was experienced on the ground, it concludes with the news that there will be a cross-Government exercise to evaluate the lessons from the Government response to the earthquakes.

The following is from the relevant part of the report:
Canterbury earthquake response
Following the Canterbury earthquakes, the department, particularly the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management which sits inside the department, was responsible for controlling and coordinating the response during a ten-week state of national emergency. It provided various services, including facilitation, procurement, and reimbursement, in the initial response and aftermath. The department is proud of its efforts, especially those of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
We commend the department for its response to the earthquakes, and particularly for the communication provided to local members of Parliament, councillors, and community boards. This communication was critical to the recovery.
Lessons learned
We and the department share the view that although the response to the earthquakes was excellent, future responses to national emergencies should be different. The department said it had learnt a lot from the earthquakes, the second of which resulted in a national state of emergency being declared for the first time. The department said that although the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s national emergency policies responded well to the earthquake they were not designed for such a big event. Therefore it struggled to respond on the scale needed, and it was difficult to create a capable structure to coordinate local and central government responses to the earthquake.
We were concerned to hear that building safety engineers were inadequately trained and prepared to carry out building safety assessments, and that building safety placards did not articulate the status of buildings clearly to their owners.
The department told us that its engagement with community volunteers was sub-standard, and that it needed to improve its ability to facilitate community involvement in disaster response, and to provide information to and receive information from the community. We share this view, particularly in regard to the department’s unsatisfactory response to offers of help from the community. We understand that this response led to resentment in the community. We believe that legislative change is needed to address problems with departmental interaction with communities, and we encourage the department to advocate for such legislation.
A cross-Government exercise will evaluate the lessons from the Government response to the earthquakes. We encourage the department to engage fully with this process and we look forward to seeing the results of the analysis.
The Committee's findings are part of the Report of the Government Administration Committee's review of the Department of Internal Affairs released on Thursday. The full report (5 pages long) can be found here.

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