Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Christchurch quake response 'effective' - review

Emergency services search the rumble for survivors of the collapsed CTV building. File photo / Brett Phibbs
Emergency services search the rumble for survivors of the collapsed CTV building. File photo / Brett Phibbs

Emergency services responded rapidly and worked well together during the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch last year, an independent review has concluded.

The various agencies were "well-managed and effective" in the face of the disaster, which claimed 185 lives.

However, the report found a number of failings in the local Civil Defence response, which was punctuated by poor communication between central and local crisis centres.

It makes 108 recommendations on what could be done "better in future", including greater cooperation between different central and local government agencies and emergency services.

Six major recommendations were put forward for the Civil Defence Ministry to improve, and two have not been taken on board, including taking the power away from territorial local authorities to control the response to emergencies.

"We are carefully considering each of their recommendations and will report to Cabinet how we will implement them," said John Hamilton, director of Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM).

The report found that: "Overall, the response to this extremely challenging situation can justifiably be regarded as having been well managed and effective."

It praised the initial response strategy as being "sound" and voluntary groups for providing major assistance, while private utility providers and Christchurch City Council were "well prepared and responded well from a lifelines perspective".

The report concludes: "Despite ongoing difficulties of historical nature within the local CDEM structure it was reassuring to discover the way in which those managing the emergency and in the Christchurch community dealt with challenges unprecedented in New Zealand.

"Overall the response went well, but some aspects could be done better in future. What the review learnt of the strengths and weaknesses of the response can be applied to help cities in New Zealand even more vulnerable to major disasters than is Christchurch."

Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain said that while, overall, the emergency response worked well "there is always room for improvement" and the report identifies issues that need attention.

Mayor Bob Parker said it was important to learns lessons from the disaster.

"We have very few examples of disasters of this scale in New Zealand and we must learn as much as we can from these events so we are prepared for the future," he said.

The police were praised for playing a major leadership role during the unprecedented emergency.

Assistant Commissioner Operations Nick Perry praised the "courage, dedication and professionalism" of Christchurch officers, as well as the work of the Disaster Victim Identification team and Police Family Liaison Officers.

"The way in which these teams worked with the families of the 185 victims was outstanding," he said.

"The reviewers praised their efforts, which they noted were effective, sensitive and greatly assisted already traumatised families."

Four recommendations relating to improvements for police had been responded to, Mr Perry said.

- APNZ

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