After every emergency come the media articles that accuse the civil defence system of failing. This time the well-known emergency relief experts at the Herald were passing judgment within a day:
“It was not until about 6am that the Ministry of Civil Defence posted its first alert, and announced it had activated the National Crisis Management Centre.
The first official police statement came a few minutes later, at 6.05am, from Inspector John Doherty.
A few short sentences – damaged buildings, ambulance reports of minor injuries.
“It is recommended that people take care if they have to travel as there has been damage to some roads,” he said.
Too little. Too late….
And where were the calming and authoritative voices telling them to stay in their homes?…
Government ministers Gerry Brownlee and John Carter finally turned up at the Beehive at 8.30am – four hours after the quake. Carter, the civil defence minister, said he had not yet spoken to the Prime Minister.
It could have been an episode of Dad’s Army. We’re going to have a conference call, said Carter. “Don’t panic.”
By the time the Government finally put John Key on an Airforce plane to Christchurch yesterday afternoon, any chance of demonstrating real, unifying leadership was gone.
Yesterday, the authorities didn’t lead – they followed.”
I don’t blame John Carter for taking four hours to get to the Beehive. He lives in Northland for Christ’s sake.
Was it slack that Minister for Civil Defence hadn’t spoken to the PM four hours into the disaster? Yes. But that tells you more about those two idiots then the State’s ability to respond. Frankly, there’s not much practical for ministers to do in those initial stages anyway. They’re no emergency professionals, they should get out of the way and let the professionals do their jobs.
Which is why I find it surprising that the Herald is criticising the PM for taking until the afternoon to fly to Christchurch. I ask why he was there at all. It’s not like he can make more informed decisions as a result. It was just a sight-seeing tour/photo-op that tied up emergency resources. Better for the PM to go once the initial situation has been stabilised. I would rather see the PM give a morale-boosting speech to the people of Christchurch today than doing a PR stunt yesterday (but he’s not there today, he’s at the netball playing sports commentator).
Anyway, like I say, an emergency response isn’t about what the politicians do but about how the public services are able to react.
Yesterday, the emergency services on the ground in Christchurch did sterling work. They cordoned off dangerous areas and got help to those who needed it. We have heard no reports of seriously injured people going without care; there was no breakdown in order. The fact that the local police were too busy activating their resources and doing their jobs to drop the Herald a line for – the horror! – an hour and a half after a major earthquake hit them is nothing to be ashamed of. The emergency services issued rolling advice updates to the public via Radio New Zealand and other media throughout the day.
It took just an hour and a half for the Ministry of Civil Defence to activate and issue information, quite a feat when you consider that means getting the staff into the emergency centre in the Beehive, getting information from Christchurch, analysing it, and formulating a response.
Across the board, the public service was on the ball. The hospitals coped well. The Defence Forces were on hand to assist. Search and Rescue teams were on their way as quick as practically possible. The Earthquake Commission had internet ads up advising people how to make claims within hours and had disseminated the information through the media too. The New Zealand Transport Agency had information on road closures out and up-to-date through the day.
And it’s not just the core public service that has proven its value. Radio New Zealand and Kiwirail have both shown how invaluable they are in a large-scale disaster.
RNZ is the only news source worth a damn in this kind of situation – most people in a disaster area are going to be able to listen to a radio but can’t get to a working TV or internet. Those that did see the TV coverage or listened to a commercial station would only have got patchy, sensationalist coverage that was obsessed with ‘looting’. RNZ’s coverage was professional, accessible, and relevant. We can’t afford to lose that. Another reason to oppose RNZ budget cuts and commercialisation.
Kiwirail has reminded us that rail that the ability to move huge amount of goods and people when needed, delivering 300,000 litres of water to Christchurch. Idiots who would have us abandon rail and rely on private trucking might like to reflect on that.
Publicly-owned utilities like Orion have repaired damage systems with admirable swiftness.
In fact, all righties should have a think where Christchurch would be without the building regulations and the public services they so strongly oppose.
So, I take my hat off to all the public servants who did their jobs with skill and dedication. When the best was needed of them, they delivered. The Herald can go f*ck itself.