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Stronger Together: D4H & Emergency Management in New Zealand

Robin was joined by Luci Swatton and Andrew Howe two experienced Emergency Management Advisors from New Zealand. They shared their insights into the important work done by the Nelson Tasman Emergency Management Group and the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, including their processes for preparing, responding to, and recovering from emergencies. Additionally, Luci and Andrew discussed their experiences with D4H and how they've achieved improved standardization, interoperability, and efficiency since both agencies began utilizing the same emergency management software system. Their conversation is an excellent resource to learn about emergency management in New Zealand, and how technology can make a real difference in crisis situations globally.

The History of New Zealand’s Civil Defence

In New Zealand there are three tiers of Civil Defence, consisting of a National Civil Defence Committee, regional commissioners, and local bodies. New Zealand established its first organized Civil Defence efforts during World War II in response to fears of potential attacks, driven by the threat of enemy invasion and air raids. In the early 2000s, New Zealand restructured its Civil Defence organization, consolidating local authorities into regional Civil Defence Emergency Management. This reorganization aimed to enhance coordination and effectiveness in emergency response. During this period, particular attention was given to climate-related emergencies, recognizing the increasing significance of preparedness and response to natural disasters like storms, floods, and other climate-related hazards

In New Zealand, there are currently sixteen CDEM groups following a bottom-up approach. This method begins at the local level and progresses to the regional and national levels. A collaborative consortium consisting of local councils, emergency services (police, fire and emergency, and ambulance services), lifeline utilities, and local Maori tribes, all work together to formulate policies and strategies for implementing an emergency management system. The ultimate objective is to mitigate the impact of emergencies effectively. This joint effort involves enhancing coordination, resource allocation, and community involvement to foster a comprehensive and resilient approach to emergency preparedness and response.

New Zealand emergency management structure

The Civil Defence ‘Four R’s’

The Civil Defence promotes ‘The Four R’s,’ a comprehensive framework that encompasses four essential elements of their emergency management strategy:

1. Risk Reduction: This entails implementing proactive measures and strategies to mitigate potential risks and vulnerabilities within communities.

2. Readiness: This focuses on preparedness efforts, ensuring that individuals, organizations, and authorities are well-prepared to respond effectively in case of emergencies.

3. Response: This pertains to the immediate actions taken during and after an emergency to protect lives, property, and the environment.

4. Recovery: This involves the process of restoring and rebuilding affected communities and infrastructure following an emergency, aiming to return to a state of normalcy and resilience.

Civil Defence Response to Cyclone Gabrielle

In February 2023, New Zealand declared a national state of emergency as Cyclone Gabrielle ravaged the country in particular the North Island Hawkes Bay, resulting in devastating floods and landslides that caused extensive damage to homes and displaced thousands of people. Following Cyclone Gabrielle’s impact, volunteers from CDEM Groups across the nation journeyed to the northern regions to offer crucial support and aid to the affected areas. During the incident response, seven CDEM groups from New Zealand came together in the Northern region to collectively engage in relief efforts. Their coordinated presence and actions played a significant role in providing much-needed support to the affected communities.

Cyclone incident

Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group

The region of Canterbury, being the largest in New Zealand, consists of nine local councils and a regional council that oversees the entire area. The region of Canterbury encompasses a wide range of settings, from large urban areas like Christchurch, which is the country’s second-largest population center, to small rural communities with only a few thousand residents. This diversity poses unique challenges when it comes to planning and preparing for emergency response, as each area requires tailored approaches to address its specific needs and vulnerabilities.

In Canterbury in the Mackenzie district, the hydro scheme plays a crucial role as the primary power producer for New Zealand. It supplies a significant portion of the country’s electricity. Alongside this important infrastructure, the region also hosts numerous large dams and man-made canals, making it essential to be prepared for potential emergencies related to these structures. Moreover, the presence of a substantial farming community across the county includes the construction of large water storage facility dams. As a precautionary measure, these organizations must have robust plans in place to address the possibility of a catastrophic failure of these dams, ensuring they are prepared to handle such situations effectively.

The Canterbury region also boasts a diverse countryside characterized by mountainous terrain and is renowned for its three large alpine rivers that flow from the West to the East across the area. However, the region has faced challenges in the past due to incidents of flooding that resulted in damage to bridges, nearly dividing the South Island. Additionally, Canterbury is of great significance as it houses two out of the three alpine passes in New Zealand, which serve as crucial links between the east and west coasts. This unique geographical makeup calls for a well-prepared emergency response system to address potential risks and ensure the safety and resilience of both residents and infrastructure in the region.

Nelson Tasman Emergency Management Group

The Nelson Tasman region, unlike Canterbury, is composed of two unitary councils, namely the regional council and the city council, with no district local councils. It encompasses Nelson City, a relatively small geographical area, and the expansive Tasman region, characterized by its rural nature and challenging accessibility. In recent times, the region has experienced substantial population growth, resulting in an influx of construction and development, particularly in areas prone to climate-related incidents like flooding and coastal risks, including the possibility of tsunamis. The increased population has also amplified the potential hazards, necessitating the council’s dedication to enhancing incident preparedness and response strategies. Another aspect to consider for the Nelson Tasman councils is that their population grows considerably in the summer months, due to tourism. Often with tourists traveling to remote locations, tricky to access and limited communication facilities.

The Nelson Tasman councils face an important consideration regarding the substantial population growth during the summer months, primarily driven by tourism. This surge in visitors flocks to the region’s remote and difficult-to-access areas, where communication facilities may be limited. The area’s allure lies in its popular mountains, stunning beaches, and picturesque rivers, making it a highly sought-after tourist destination. Managing this seasonal population increase becomes a critical challenge for the councils, necessitating a careful balance in providing sufficient infrastructure, services, and emergency response capabilities.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) has pioneered its volunteer-led response teams, known as NZRT2, becoming the second official group of its kind in New Zealand. Comprising dedicated volunteers, these teams work in close collaboration with local authorities. These committed volunteers selflessly donate their time and expertise to support not only the police and fire departments but also any individuals on the ground during emergencies. In parallel, the CDEM operates from its centralized control center, adeptly coordinating the overall response strategy.

Abel Tasman New Zealand

Canterbury and Nelson Tasman Shared Hazards

Both the Canterbury and Nelson Tasman regions share a common set of hazards that require thorough preparedness, including tsunamis, weather-related incidents (drought, snow, flooding, wind, heat), rural fires, and earthquakes. Tsunamis present a shared threat to both regions, and the civil defense authorities have taken decisive measures to safeguard the public. They have implemented a robust mobile phone alert system to provide timely warnings. To ensure the system’s reliability, civil defense groups conduct annual tests of these alerts, diligently assessing adherence to established standards. The duty manager bears the responsibility of sending out crucial mobile alert text messages, which have the potential to reach thousands of people. As such, this responsibility demands utmost seriousness and precision in execution to effectively inform and protect the public in the event of a tsunami.

The civil defense authorities place a significant emphasis on promoting community resilience and preparedness for emergencies in addition to the mobile phone alert system. They actively engage in educating the public and ensuring they understand their responsibilities during disasters.

Climate-Related Emergencies

New Zealand is experiencing the effects of climate change, witnessing a rise in the frequency and severity of events. In a collaborative effort, the emergency management teams are actively planning and preparing for climate-related emergencies, while advocating for increased recognition concerning climate-related crises. One hazard they are particularly focused on understanding the potential impacts of extreme heat on essential resources like water supplies and national airports, taking measures to address hazards such as runway vulnerabilities, and ensuring an adequate water supply in hydrants for firefighting during wildfires.

Global warming graphic

Wildfire Emergencies

The regions of Nelson Tasman and Canterbury in New Zealand have been confronted with a series of weather-related emergencies, notably including devastating wildfires like the Port Hills Fires in 2017 in Canterbury and the Pigeon Valley Fires in 2019 in Nelson Tasman, The Port Hills fire emerged in the vicinity of Christchurch city. The blaze presented a significant danger to the city’s inhabitants, ultimately leading to the destruction of nine homes, the evacuation of hundreds of people, and the unfortunate loss of one life. The Pigeon Valley Fires, which scorched 2,400 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of 3,000 individuals from the Wakefield area, marked a significant incident at the time. However, this record was swiftly eclipsed by the Lake Ohau fire, underscoring the intensifying nature of these occurrences, a trend attributed to the effects of climate change. These events not only demonstrate the vulnerability of these regions but also emphasize the imperative for coordinated responses, involving entities such as civil defense offices and firefighting teams, to manage these emergencies effectively.

Canterbury wild fires
Nelson Tasman wild fires

Earthquakes in Canterbury

The series of earthquakes that have significantly impacted the Canterbury region commenced on September 4, 2010, with a magnitude of 7.1. Subsequently, a devastating earthquake struck Christchurch on February 22, 2011, resulting in 185 fatalities, building collapses, and a billowing cloud of smoke that enveloped the city skyline. This particular quake measured 6.2 in magnitude. Additional seismic events occurred in June 2012 (M6.0) and November 14, 2017 (M7.8). These emergencies prompted the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group to forge a unified approach, culminating in the establishment of a collaborative operational center at the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct. Within this precinct, all emergency services now converge, operating as a cohesive multi-agency hub to ensure effective coordination.

The New Zealand Alpine Fault

The Alpine Fault is the active plate boundary between the Pacific and Australian plates. ‘AF8’ stands for Alpine Fault Magnitude 8 Scenario. This is a preventative program based on scientific modeling, coordinated response planning, and community engagement, all designed to help build resilience against the next earthquake. Similar fault lines to the Alpine Fault can be found in other parts of the world, for example, the Seatle Fault in Seattle USA.

AF8

The Alpine Fault is the longest natural straight line visible from space. On average it ruptures around every 300 years with the last significant earthquake in the year 1717. Through the AF8 modeling, it is predicted there is a 75% chance of an AF8 earthquake in the next 50 years, and there is a 4 out of 5 chance that it will be of a magnitude 8 or higher, with likely hood to be widespread and significant damage. The brunt of this phenomenon will primarily be borne by New Zealand’s South Island, while certain areas in the southern territories of the North Island will also experience its effects. With a population of roughly one million, the South Island is particularly susceptible to these impacts. Given the potential gravity of the resultant damage, nurturing robust community resilience becomes an imperative endeavor.

Liquefaction

The potential aftermath of an AF8 earthquake would encompass not only the expected tremors and structural damage to buildings and critical infrastructure but also the possibility of liquefaction. Liquefaction involves the transformation of soil into a liquid-like state when subjected to shaking. This phenomenon would have a profound impact on roadways, altering accessibility and travel routes during and after the event. Coastal regions are particularly susceptible to this risk, as the presence of water in the ground could exacerbate the effects of liquefaction.

Earthquake liquafaction
Liquafaction earthquake

How Emergency Managers in New Zealand are Preparing for an Alpine Fault Rupture

The CDEM teams are proactively gearing up for potential AF8 incidents, demonstrating their commitment to disaster preparedness. Their strategic approach encompasses several key aspects; the CDEM teams are actively enhancing their workforce by conducting extensive training within their regions. This proactive step ensures that staff members are well-versed in the correct response protocols and systems, enabling them to navigate emergencies more efficiently. A pivotal element of their readiness strategy involves the deployment of a 24/7 duty officer. This officer remains constantly updated with pertinent information and serves as the initial point of contact in the event of an AF8 incident. Recognizing the importance of collaboration, the CDEM teams are actively cultivating relationships with various agencies such as the police and fire emergency management.

Their inclusive scenario-based training, which involves multiple agencies, fosters transparent communication. The CDEM teams are thoughtfully establishing a database of community gathering points and civil defense centers. This repository ensures that post-incident, individuals have designated places to assemble, complete with pre-set welfare provisions for their immediate needs. Acknowledging the challenges posed by remote areas prone to communication breakdowns, the CDEM teams are diligently enhancing satellite communication capabilities. This critical measure guarantees that even in isolated regions, affected individuals can maintain contact with emergency responders. To ensure a structured response, the CDEM teams have developed meticulous action plans. These plans outline step-by-step instructions, offering a clear roadmap for response teams during an incident. This methodical approach minimizes confusion and expedites decision-making. In essence, the CDEM teams are taking a comprehensive approach to bolster their preparedness for potential AF8 incidents. By focusing on training, communication, cooperation, and infrastructure development, with the support of D4H, they are elevating their ability to effectively navigate and respond to emergencies, ultimately safeguarding their communities.

D4H’s Integration with CDEM New Zealand

D4H has been successfully integrated within the Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) groups across both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. This integration has proven to be proactive and pivotal, as D4H’s software has become a cornerstone tool for these teams in their emergency management endeavors. As D4H gains traction among more CDEM groups, it is fostering the development of a nationwide community of practice within the civil defense and emergency management space. The initiative was spearheaded by Selwyn County and then Canterbury County, both became the trailblazers in implementing the D4H software, this move garnered attention and inspired other regions across New Zealand to follow suit. As new groups integrate D4H into their operations, the more experienced groups are poised to lend their support by sharing their established templates, for example within the region of Canterbury they have together worked to develop finance tracking status boards and share that raw template.

"We love the ability to share data and templates, we get it instantly. It has been fantastic not having to start from scratch."
— Andrew Howe, Emergency Management Advisor, Emergency Management Canterbury

Trusted Access Support

The CDEM teams across New Zealand have Trusted Access Support, this visionary approach nurtures remote collaboration, reaping numerous benefits, particularly when multiple agencies harness the same emergency management software. It allows the teams across regions to have admin access to each other’s accounts and therefore provide needed support during people’s time of leave to remotely support one another.

"It is a high-trust model but we are only a small nation and having this remote support and support for training is certainly paying off."
— Andrew Howe, Emergency Management Advisor, Emergency Management Canterbury

D4H’s Preplanning Solutions for Diverse Emergency Scenarios

In New Zealand, emergency managers handle a wide spectrum of crises, from tsunamis and earthquakes to cyclones. D4H’s adaptability and customization make it an ideal tool for supporting diverse emergency preparedness requirements, with the ability to create various action plans.

"One thing I have found very worthwhile is that you can have all the initial tasks pre-loaded, so the team knows what to work on when they start their shift during an emergency."
— Andrew Howe, Emergency Management Advisor, Emergency Management Canterbury

D4H Implementation for Nelson Tasman

Recently, D4H was introduced and implemented as the emergency management platform in Nelson Tasman. The team had encountered challenges in finding a system that aligned with their specific goals, making D4H a welcomed solution.

"After seeing D4H in Canterbury and others in the team getting little tasters when deployed elsewhere we decided to go with D4H. It’s great to be building that consistency across the South Island, so when we go to help in other places we are using the same tool."
— Luci Swatton, Emergency Management Advisor at Nelson Tasman Emergency

Throughout the implementation phase of D4H in Nelson Tasman, the team found valuable support from their counterparts in Canterbury, who readily assisted with any queries. Initially, Nelson Tasman duplicated the Canterbury site, enabling them to replicate their setup precisely. This involved transferring status boards, templates, and other elements, which they then customized to suit their local context.

"Copying all their status boards and templates saved us a huge amount of time."
— Luci Swatton, Emergency Management Advisor at Nelson Tasman Emergency

The team at Nelson Tasman was interrupted due to a weather-related emergency in August of 2022, however afterward they ran a scenario based-traing to introduce D4H to their response staff consists of members of the council with alternate everyday full-time employment. This training exercise included around 90 responders, who all went through the half-day exercise, which was the first time most staff members had interacted with D4H, so there were a few key elements to make ease the experience for the group. Nelson Tasman recruited the help of mentors and experienced D4H users from other regions, including Andrew Howe from Canterbury, who came and helped sitting alongside members of staff throughout the training day and sharing their expertise for best practices when using the D4H software. D4H software is designed for use so that the most basic user can use it for the first time in the event of an emergency.

"Within an hour people were pretty much on board with D4H. They were able to put things in the updates log section, and they were doing some taskings. It was really quick for people."
— Luci Swatton, Emergency Management Advisor at Nelson Tasman Emergency
CDEM D4H

The team received outstanding feedback from individuals who expressed that D4H fulfilled what had been lacking previously, eliminating the need for manual tasks and disorganized paper documentation.

"It was awesome to see people’s faces just light up because finally there was something in place."
— Luci Swatton, Emergency Management Advisor at Nelson Tasman Emergency

Given the challenge of having all Nelson Tasman responders available for in-person training, the team opted for an innovative solution by introducing online training. This 90-minute session aimed to impart the fundamentals of D4H, chosen for its accessibility to a wider audience and the convenience of recording for future viewing. Moreover, this approach has inspired individuals to engage in additional self-training exercises, fostering a proactive learning culture.

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