Minister seeks changes in Civil Defence law

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee wants law changes after a long delay by Christchurch authorities to declare a state of emergency.  Photo / Christchurch City Council
Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee wants law changes after a long delay by Christchurch authorities to declare a state of emergency. Photo / Christchurch City Council

The Civil Defence Minister says communication problems in this week's deadly Port Hills wildfires has highlighted the need for changes in the law governing emergencies.

Gerry Brownlee has been critical about the lengthy delay by Christchurch officials to declare a state of civil emergency this week.

It didn't happened until 48 hours after the fires began. By that time homes had been destroyed, scores of people evacuated and a helicopter pilot fighting the fire had been killed.

Brownlee described the situation in Christchurch as "all pretty unclear" and said he was not happy.

He said there was a need to streamline the country's civil defence laws calling for a clear, simple chain of command in times of emergency.

"The fires this week have strengthened the mandate for change. I want to emphasise that I'm not at all criticising the response of those on the ground in both Christchurch City and Selwyn District, " said Brownlee.

"It's the way information is reported up the chain and the time it can take to access up-to-date information that has been of most concern for me."

He said clarifying and simplifying the chain of command would help ensure clear lines of communication and effective decision-making in the aftermath of significant events.

"I do believe that states of local emergencies could have been declared earlier but, at the time, I was not in Christchurch and local authorities knew the situation in more detail than I did.

"No minister has ever declared a state of local emergency over the top of local authorities."

He said shortcomings in the Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Act had been highlighted in the emergency response during last year's Kaikoura earthquake.

"The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is working to identify lessons and put corrective actions in place following the November 14 event, as it always does after significant disasters.

"However, there is a need for broader consideration of the legislation. I'm hopeful a cross-party approach will be able to consider any improvements that might be made to the Act," he said.

Responding to large-scale natural disasters was challenging and he had nothing but admiration for the people who put aside their personal lives to help with the emergency response.

"In a country so prone to natural disasters, it's in everyone's best interests to ensure we are as resilient and ready to respond as we can be," said Brownlee.

- NZ Herald

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