Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Hastings council got it so, so badly wrong

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Someone needs to sue the Hastings District Council over the gastro outbreak.

They'd be doing the rest of us a favour. By "the rest of us", I mean people who live in a house in New Zealand and drink water from the tap in the kitchen.

If the council's she'll-be-right response is an example of how our own local authorities intend to give us a heads-up the water might be dirty, we'd better start stocking up on toilet paper.

It's completely unacceptable that the council warned residents in writing: a Friday night statement to the media, a warning on the council website and, wait for it, a Facebook post.

What were you thinking, Hastings District Council?

Did you really think the octogenarians who use the computer once a week to Skype with the grandkids in London would all log in on Friday night?

Did you think every one of your residents would check Facebook, Twitter and the Hastings District Council website before embarking on the dangerous adventure of filling a water glass in the kitchen?

The council should never have assumed that everyone would log on that night.

The only assumption the council should have made was that - apart from the odd family rich enough or fussy enough to fork out for a filter or bottled water - every single person in every single house in Havelock North was going to drink water from a tap that night.

This week, a visitor from Hawke's Bay suggested over dinner that instead of posting a warning online council staff should have driven up and down every street in Havelock North with loud hailers, telling people not to drink the water.

We'll assume Hastings District Council followed its own advice and checked online first. In which case, it would know from the online Bible we've been using trumpets to sound alarms since the Old Testament.

On the BBC website is a story about a water contamination scare in Wales seven years ago. No one got sick, but authorities were worried about a bug in the water. They got out the vans with the loud hailers just to be safe.

Two years earlier East Surrey thought the risk of contamination was low but still got the vans out. That example is also on a British website.

It is possible Hastings District Council did read these online examples of how to respond to water contamination, but wasn't keen to cause panic.

In that case, it could have door-knocked.

According to statistics available on the internet, there are 13,000 people living in Havelock North. At the national average of nearly three people a house, that's 4300 houses.

If the council's 400 employees shared the job of door-knocking, they'd each have 11 houses to visit. Assigning 10 minutes to each visit, they could have knocked off the job in less than two hours.

If that seemed like too much hassle - which, let's be honest, it clearly did - I have come up with what I consider a novel way of stopping anyone from drinking the water.

Put a food dye in the water supply. Lots of it. Preferably green.

No one will drink that when it comes gushing out of the tap. They will definitely hit the internet to find out what's going on and you wouldn't have thousands of people sick.

As proud as I am of my idea, I'm relieved to discover online that some water researchers suggested exactly the same solution in January 2014. It's right there on the internet.

Pity Hastings District Council didn't go online first.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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