John Hamilton: How New Zealand would respond to a tsunami

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Search teams sift through rubble in Rikuzentakata, Japan. Photo / Getty Images
Search teams sift through rubble in Rikuzentakata, Japan. Photo / Getty Images

The Japan tsunami reinforced important messages for New Zealanders.

If a tsunami was generated far from the coast the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management would issue an official warning.

But a large tsunami generated nearby would arrive before a warning could be issued or sirens activated.

People must know that if they are at the coast and feel a strong earthquake (it is hard to stand up) or a weak earthquake that lasts for a minute or more, they must immediately move to high ground or go inland. Do not wait for an official warning.

The Canterbury earthquakes and the Japan tsunami led to reviews of response arrangements, including emergency welfare plans and the risk from tsunami.

Changes in emergency welfare arrangements will follow,.

Each council is responsible for planning and providing civil defence emergency management in its area.

This includes evacuation and welfare arrangements.

Regional co-ordination and support are provided by the 16 civil defence emergency management groups.

Each group is a cluster led by the councils and involving emergency services, utility companies, Government organisations, non-government organisations and other agencies working together.

The ministry provides national co-ordination and support.

Driving this approach of local responsibility with regional and national support is the realisation that local knowledge and quick decisions are vital.

The National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan, formal ministry "director's guidelines" and other measures provide consistency to planning, while giving local and regional organisations scope to consider their areas' specific needs.

If there is a need to evacuate an area or receive evacuees, planning includes informing the public, the evacuation process, housing evacuees and returning them to their homes. Welfare services include registration, inquiry, needs assessment, care and protection for the young, providing household goods and services, financial aid, shelter and accommodation, and animal welfare.

Fundamental to civil defence emergency management in New Zealand is that it must involve communities and the many local and central government, private sector and non-government organisations which have roles in an emergency.

Our decentralised, all-hazards-and-risks approach, combined with the expectation that communities and organisations have a role to play, is a challenge but it is also our system's greatest strength.

John Hamilton, director of Civil Defence Emergency Management.

- NZ Herald

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