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Council withdraws support for local civil defence

15 May 2017 10:51 am

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Mahurangi East Civil Defence chair Frank Babbott (left) and Warkworth chair Glyn Williams are among the Community Response Groups who are banding together.
Health and safety compliance has been blamed for Auckland Council Civil Defence leaving Community Response Groups to fend for themselves.

The groups are reassuring the community they will activate along with official services in an emergency, but are seeking urgent clarification about their future role.

They were told in March their Community Response Plans, which had been formulated over many years, would not be activated and evacuation centres would not be recognised by Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management (ACDEM), as it could not take responsibility for health and safety. It follows a restructuring of ACDEM last June, which groups say was poorly communicated and confusing.

Rodney Cr Greg Sayers has asked Council to review its decision, saying the move was short-sighted.
“It only further disenfranchises the community from Council,” Cr Sayers says.

The volunteer Community Response Groups (CRGs) were set up by Council in 2011 after the Christchurch earthquake to create local plans and activate them in an emergency.

ACDEM resilience manager Ani Brunet says that under the new ‘community empowered approach’ introduced last year, the CRGs and their plans will not be formally activated.

“However, they are seen as valued members of their communities and will be alerted and guided by CDEM as much as possible depending on the scale of the emergency.”

She says the former approach indicated CRGs had full powers delegated by the Controller under the CDEM Act, which she says is not the case.

“The health and safety concerns from that model included the expectations and responsibilities put on CRGs during an emergency.”

ACDEM has a highly trained group of ALERT volunteers who assisted the public alongside other emergency response agencies.

Warkworth CRG chair Glyn Williams says they are concerned the health and safety liability has now fallen on the groups. They need funding for small operational costs, including replacing safety clothing as they can no longer wear anything with a CD logo.

“We were set up by Council for the community. Now we’ve been left on our own and told our plans aren’t recognised. It’s flabbergasting.”

He says despite the confusion the groups will still activate in an emergency based on their previous plans. They are creating a committee to ensure they are individually and collectively prepared.

Scotts Landing chair Peter Seers  is hoping to get more clarification about the emergency plans, liabilities and ongoing communication for preparedness and emergency response at a meeting with ACDEM on May 16.
Mahurangi East chair Frank Babbott says communities could be self-sufficient but still needed to know their role and responsibilities.

Mahurangi West chair Cluny Macpherson is concerned the new structure does not provide certainty and practical advice.

“Many of us invested a considerable amount of time working with very experienced Council Civil Defence people to assemble, and later revise, Community Response Plans, which provided clear outlines of appropriate responses for various emergencies in particular areas.”

Groups in Leigh and Whangateau say they have always acted self-sufficiently and the changes will make little difference. Tony Enderby says regardless of personal liability he is confident the community will do whatever is needed in an emergency.

ACDEM strongly advises that in an emergency, people should stay at home if it is safe for them to do so. They encourage communities to have community-led places to gather in an emergency to support each other, but they will “no longer be called evacuation centres due to the incorrect expectation they are part of formal Civil Defence Centres”. Should any centres be opened, ACDEM would communicate to the public where they were located.

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