In the last few weeks our District Council had to declare a State of Emergency in response to the damage sustained by the township of Edgecumbe that resulted from a serious breach in a stop-bank during a heavy rain event. While our district is not unfamiliar with dealing with crisis events, it is the first time since I have been on Council that we needed to “declare” and call on the help of the wider civil defence ministry. While we are grateful for all the help and support we received, it was an experience that suggested to me that some changes are needed. I was therefore pleased to read that the Minister of Civil Defence Hon. Gerry Brownlee has indeed decided to review the processes and performance of his ministry.
Currently, when an emergency is “declared” and as such upgraded to a state of emergency, a veritable team of professionals sweep into town and take over. The response as such is then subject to a plethora of rules about what can and can’t be done, and there is no room for common-sense local input. A tension develops between the gratefulness you feel that central government is proactively involved, and the resourcing that brings to the crisis, and huge levels of frustration by those of us dealing at the coal-face with real people and the enormous challenges they face, and the impossibility of getting approval to get the most basic things done, that close communities with extensive local support networks can perform well.
I am hugely proud and thankful for the way our local community and our nation responded to the catastrophe. The on-going generosity is typically Kiwi. If any good can come of such an event, it is that we further develop the skills that make families, neighbourhoods and communities truly resilient. That is why it is so important that we improve the interface between central agency work and the work of local governance, iwi and organisations, so that we don’t undermine each other’s efforts.