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Public service deserves praise for earthquake response

Written By: - Date published: 5:12 pm, September 5th, 2010 - 37 comments
Categories: public services - Tags: ,

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.

37 comments on “Public service deserves praise for earthquake response ”

  1. IrishBill 1

    Agreed. I’ve been incredibly impressed at how well this has gone, how resilient the people of Christchurch are and at how quickly the city is moving into clean-up mode.

    • Michael Foxglove 1.1

      Yes. Excellent call Marty. Communities in Christchurch have so far come through with incredible fortitude. And the contribution of public servants like civil defence officials, firefighters, and the police has been commendable.

  2. Jenny 2

    Train loaded with 300,000 litres of fresh water heads for stricken city.

    nzherald.co.nz

    KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said the water would arrive aboard a train early this afternoon:

    “It’s a practical contribution we can make to Christchurch’s emergency response and we will be looking for other ways that rail can be used to support the region’s recovery,” he said.

    “We are grateful to Fonterra for making the tanks available for the shipment.”

    KiwiRail opened the railway line south of Christchurch last night but continuing aftershocks meant a speed limit of 40km/h had been imposed. That was reduced to 25km/h over bridges.

    A great initiative by Kiwi Rail.

  3. Treetop 3

    Everyone from central to local government, to distribution, to insurance, to emergency services to the media, have got it right regarding the welfare of those whose lives have been disrupted on many levels due to experiencing a severe earthquake and the unsettling after shocks.

    Civil Defence delivered: they did not panic, they showed leadership, they did not cause undue anxiety to those who were in shock.

  4. Jenny 4

    Another Public Service doing a great job.

    The MetService is currently issuing a weather warning for the people of Christchurch and surrounding areas.

    click here

    …Northwesterlies reaching 65 km/h in exposed places, with gusts of 130 km/h –
    between 9am Sunday and 6am Monday

    The Met say it is possible that the winds and heavy rain predicted may cause further damage to already compromised structures.

    There may also be a danger from unsecured loose materials being caught in the predicted high winds.

    In addition, severe gale force northwesterlies are forecast for the east of the South Island from inland Southland to Marlborough, and also for Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay. These winds have the potential to bring down trees and powerlines, and make driving hazardous. They are also likely to be dangerous to structures already weakened by the recent earthquake.

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      It’s actually been very still all day here until about 20 minutes ago when the winds started, but it’s still not gale force.

      Dad said it was quite windy this morning, but not gale force then either.

      Lucky for us, and I guess sometimes the weather will always be unpredictable.

  5. kriswgtn 5

    Chch will pull through this,I just hope it dont lose its charm.

    but as for beaker

    Keystone took what, 7-8 hours to arrive.
    What a loser

    and yeah it all boils down to $ for him while taxpayers can bailout SCF , they balk @ helping those who cant afford insurance

    Not everyones a thief like you beaker

  6. A Nonny Moose 6

    I laughed when I heard ol’ Smile n Wave was coming to “view the damage”. It goes to show his value to the country that the best he could do was offer condolences, and promises. Yeah, we know how good he is with his promises. I’d love to know if the money the govt will offer to our city will be more than the 1.7b offered to SCF!

    I am really really impressed how smoothly things have gone. Life is disturbed, but we’re incredibly well informed. Once power came back on, internet access was immediate and we have all the info we need at our fingertips.

    • RedLogix 6.1

      I laughed when I heard ol’ Smile n Wave was coming to “view the damage”. It goes to show his value to the country that the best he could do was offer condolences, and promises.

      Well that’s pretty much what we expect of our political leaders in these situations. If it was a Labour leader we’d expect the same.

      • Rosy 6.1.1

        I laughed when he was shocked about swimming pools popping out of the ground… interensting reference point.

        Emergency services seem to have been awesome! as have the people of Canterbury. It’ll be a hard week for them 🙁

        • Vicky32 6.1.1.1

          Yes, I watched him banging on, about swimming pools on 3News last night, and I thought WTF?????
          Thanks to Nat Rad, they rock! Their coverage was completely awesome and comprehensive…
          Deb

  7. prism 7

    It was surprising to see John Key in front of the TV camera explaining about the earthquake when it should have been the public servants with the expertise who are paid to handle the various aspects.

    It is right for the country’s leader to be there to see and hear about the size and cost of the problems but I thought he was getting into photo opportunity stance by doing the detailed reporting. Good if he could find out as much about how to strengthen a fragile economy successfully.

  8. Jenny 8

    Remarkably, not one major bridge in the affected area has been damaged.

    All the anonymous engineers responsible, deserve to be publicly recognised as life savers.

    capcha “Lazy” definitely not.

  9. RedLogix 9

    Thanks Marty. A lot of public service utility people will have been working very hard since this event. The guys who’ve had the least media presence, but who will have been working the hardest will be the the the water supply/sewerage guys. I can tell you from direct knowledge that they’ve been scrambling non-stop putting into action existing earthquake response plans, assessing and mitigating the damage.

    They’ll have weeks, if not months, of difficult work ahead.

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    Just watching TV3 news and they were complaining about the EQC because people couldn’t get through as if they expect the EQC to keep enough people on to be able to answer phones immediately when disaster strikes.

    • Carol 10.1

      And getting someone on the phone is not much use if they can’t provide much assistance. I had my ceiling open up in a Sydney storm a few years back. I got hold f the SES (State Emergency Services) on the phone that night. But they didn’t actually front-up and cover my roof for 2 weeks. Meanwhile I had a tarp rigged up over my bed, and my stuff all piled in the few dry spots I could find, while water poured in every time it rained. And there were others still sleeping under tarps rigged up over their beds long after my whole roof was covered.

      On TV3 tonight, John Campbell also did a report about the search and rescue team that have been hard at it in ChCh. Campbell was full of praise for them.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        And getting someone on the phone is not much use if they can’t provide much assistance.

        Well, apparently EQC do have the money but it’s an unknown if the resources for fixing Chch up are available.

  11. Hollyfield 11

    I think the Herald editorial is appalling, and I think they will find that most of NZ will disagree with their views on this matter. With the benefit of hindsight there are always things that can have been done differently/better, but in the middle of the crisis people have to cope with very difficult situations as best they can. It’s important to get facts and accurate data before making decisions, and this can’t generally be done instantaneously. Bob Parker has been fantastic, and to get so much of the power and water restored so quickly is amazing. The structural engineers on TV1 news tonight are acting so quickly to assess whether buildings are safe. Well done to everyone.

  12. prism 12

    Bob Parker might be a good front man but the hard work is being done behind his smiling presence on TV. And I don’t think that he should be judged as being the foremost candidate for mayor over Jim Anderton because of his white teeth and media nous.

  13. Johnno 13

    Congratulations to the officials and public servants who put their own and their families needs to the rear while they went and helped the fellow citizens. They are true servants to the public. I spent a lot of time yesterday in the vicinity of the Civil Defence bunker, and I have to say that without fail every official (and actually every Minister) I had dealings with were polite, good-natured, incredibly helpful, and patient explaining things to the assorted media.

    BTW, one of my favourite memories from yesterday was a farmer interviewed on the phone during TVNZ’s day-coverage. Question: What sort of shape is your house in? Answer: Aw, it’s fucked, aah I mean buggered, no, stuffed….. this isn’t live is it?

    Legend.

  14. Armchair Critic 14

    Looks like a textbook response to me. Sure, anyone can find something that could have been done better, it’s a major disaster, after all. But seriously, the CD response seems to have been excellent.

  15. I said I wouldnt post here anymore here, (and i wont after this post) but this is a unique event. Im not going to comment on the Government, but I will comment on civil defense, the police and the local authorites.

    Hats off to them, freaking amazing, it seems they had people on every street that was affected, I cannot beleive how fast they dealt with this, and how proffesional they were, to basically have everything back on, power/ water and the freakin internet just blows my mind.

    I dont know who trains these guys or what methods they use, but ten out of ten!!!!!!!!!

  16. Nick C 16

    Marty would you be opposed to the government hiring private contractors to clean up the city, repair damaged infrustructure etc?

    • Loota 16.1

      John Key wanted some new jobs schemes, now he has them.

    • Marty G 16.2

      No. The government doesn’t have a ministry of works any more, so all that kind of work has to be sub-contracted.

      doesn’t mean it’s good economic news though. Any more than it’s good news if you lose your cellphone and have to spend some of your savings buying a new one.

  17. Jenny 17

    Federated Farmers are on the ball and their website which is being continually updated, seems to be a good resource for rural and urban folk.

    From the Feds:

    In addition to the water deliveries to Christchurch in conjunction with Fonterra. The Federated Farmers 0800 FARMING line is increasingly receiving offers of accommodation from farmers, which Federated Farmers is now in discussion with the Red Cross on (who are also talking to Civil Defence on this matter). Federated Farmers is keen to collate these offers and if you can offer any assistance, please register that on 0800 327 646 (0800 FARMING) tomorrow morning.

    Electricity update for the Orion network:
    Orion continues to make progress restoring power across Christchurch city and
    the surrounding rural areas. Power has been restored to approximately 98
    percent of Christchurch’s urban and rural electricity network with less than
    3,000 customers now affected out of a total of almost 200,000.

    It is hopeful that power can be restored to a further 2,000 customers tomorrow.
    Several hundred customers will be affected for some days to come. All customers
    who need power, as long as their building is not severely damaged, should have
    power within four to five days. Orion’s advice remains that, as a precaution,
    farming customers seriously affected by power cuts should seek assistance and
    Federated Farmers has offers of generators. Please call 0800 327 646 to
    discuss.

    The MetService continues to forecast strong winds, however, these haven’t
    arrived yet. The weather has not hampered Orion’s restoration efforts today but
    any serious inclement weather could extend these timeframes.

    It is important to note that parts of its network will be in a fragile state due
    to temporary repairs used to restore power urgently. This fragile state will
    remain for some weeks before permanent repairs are completed, meaning that
    small events could cause power outages. Orion urges everyone to stay away from
    power poles and lines and to treat all lines as live at all times.

    The majority of Orion’s field staff and contractors will be stood down overnight
    for safety reasons. Federated Farmers is extremely grateful for the efforts of
    Orion’s staff and contractors.

    Telecom service update:
    Telecom’s fixed line infrastructure is performing well, as are both mobile
    networks. The majority of service issues are power-related and Chorus has
    advised us that enough generators and diesel are available to power all
    affected cabinets and cell sites to restore services in the South Island.

    The generators are being distributed to all affected cell sites and cabinets.
    Telecom expects all affected cell sites and affected cabinets to be running on
    full power from today. Chorus is implementing a diesel top-up schedule to
    ensure that generators do not run out. Telecom is working closely with
    infrastructure, banking and insurance providers, as well as construction firms,
    to support rebuild and recovery activities across Canterbury. The 111 service
    is fully functional.

    Telecom’s Christchurch offices will be closed on Monday 6 September. Client
    calls will be routed to its other contact centres where staffing levels have
    been increased.

    Schools and the University of Canterbury:
    Civil Defence advises that every school in Christchurch, Selwyn district and
    Kaiapoi will be closed for two days on Monday 6 September and Tuesday 7
    September. This applies to the state and private sectors alike. The University
    of Canterbury (including the College of Education at Dovedale) is closed while
    the campus is assessed. The University will not open before 6.00 am on Monday,
    13 September.

    Reporting damage:
    If you do have damage, please make contact with the EQC on 0800 326 243 and take
    photographs of damaged property. If you consider any damage to be potentially
    life threatening, dial 111.

    If you can offer assistance or need assistance, please contact:

    0800 327 646 (0800 FARMING)

    capcha – “comparatively”

  18. Logie97 18

    Just thinking…

    I watched the PM and the local Chamber of Commerce head on QandA this morning and their mention of every cloud having a silver lining and a positive effect on employment. I think they were referring to the masses of reparation work that will follow this disaster.

    The work is of course essential and the money will be found.

    Strange though that in other times Key would call this sort of work ‘government created’ and not productive…

  19. jcuknz 19

    As I watched I think it was Stuff’s photographic coverage from afar I got the impression that most damaged buildings seemed to be those built before we had building regulations and were past their ‘use by’ date. So the silver lining was that there were no fatalities and some of buildings which should have gone long ago will now be demolished? It is inevitable that ‘heads’ will flock to get in the way of the workers, I am sure it has been going on since the year dot … except these days we have the blogs to comment on rather than to our mates or under our breaths.

  20. vto 20

    Sheesh Mr Marty, you sound like Bill English when he said the folk of South Canterbury should say “thanks”. Piss off.

    The public service and regulations have been put in place over many governments over many decades, mostly of centre-right persuasion. I have never heard anyone call for deregulation of earthquake or fire regulations in the building industry so I am not sure what you are referring to.

    As someone responsible for putting up several residential buildings in town, including one a dozen stories high, I can assure you that never in the industry (swamped as it is with right wing types ay) have I come across anyone complaining about onerous safety standards in buildling. In fact quite the reverse. Including ourselves in the last one – on many occassions the point was made (more with fire) that it must work to preserve lives in the case of an emergency. As it has.

    I will tell you who deserves the biggest pat on the back in Christchurch (among many many) and that is the structural engineers of Christchurch. A small group who have been responsible for the designs of all the buildings. Their designs have performed admirably. Their work deserves a medal.

  21. freedom 21

    the only people who did a lousy job during the aftermath of this disaster were the Media

    they displayed the usual hunger for sensation instead of reporting level headed facts and information, they predictably failed in their civic duty during this disaster

    tv reporters endlessly repeating questions and not listening to answers, wasting the time of people who had far more important things to do

    warnings to the public about not clogging communication services followed by repeated requests for people to send in photos and stories,
    even after one of the telco’s speciifically asked them to stop

    there is the assistance of the military, do they calmly report this basic and expected event, no, they show images of armoured personnel carriers getting loaded aboard the ferry instead of a few simple shots of trucks and soldiers packing up emergency equipment. Sure the trucks are not as exciting but this type of juvenile journalism only creates false sensationalism, much like the over-reporting of the single (attempted) looting incident

    and then there is the disgraceful swooping of the buzzards into fox glacier, where apparently the media who went to the pub that night got told very clearly that they were not welcome

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