A full independent inquiry must take place into the water contamination in Havelock North that has led to hundreds if not thousands of residents young and old being struck down with a gastro bug.

Our daughter was one of the first to come down sick last Wednesday and it wasn't until Friday evening that we started hearing of other children and adults that were severely ill, yet like everyone else we were still in the dark to what was the cause and the source of the illness.

In this day and age with modern technology and communication channels it is unacceptable that communication was delayed as much as it has been by the Hastings District Council.

I've heard excuses that posts were regularly made on Facebook. Well, I can assure you that Facebook isn't the preferred media channel for many of us, especially our elderly.


Apart from some media releases late in the weekend, it took HDC until Monday morning to have a formal information advert in Hawke's Bay Today.

Although I didn't check the council's website, I also heard that this didn't have the most up-to-date information over the weekend. In the last fortnight we have had two significant events - the water contamination and the storm that cut power to many households and businesses.

In comparing the two events, the Unison response was very impressive with plenty of updates and full use of all communication channels.

A council's role is to ensure the essentials of living and working in the district are taken care of such as services like water supply and amenities, and in this instance they have fallen way short of our expectations.

I am calling for a full independent inquiry to this issue that doesn't start with the current outbreak but instead goes back at least 12 months or longer.

Why? Because there have been two previous contaminations in the last 12 months and not only should a greater investigation be put in place for the water infrastructure but also questions about why a communications crisis plan wasn't developed then, should the situation arise again (like it now has).

The council may well have communication crisis plan templates ready to go, but this event has strongly proven that they are a failure and don't work. Another important note is that there has been a lot of talk about Havelock North residents falling sick, but it's much wider than this.

Havelock North is a business and tourism hub and many people commute to the village from Hastings, Napier and beyond for work.


They unknowingly would have been putting others at risk.

So, from a communications perspective we have to ensure that we don't isolate one suburb or area and that communications is far wider.

There has also been a lot of mixed messages due to the number of parties involved in the event. The council, the DHB and schools have all put out information and at times it has been confusing. Perhaps the information should have been centralised to ensure its accuracy and being completely up-to-date?

Lastly, in this day and age and with council probably having one of the most up-to-date databases in the region (due to rates and election information) surely they could have set up automated text and phone messages as well as emails to most residents.

- Damon Harvey is director of ATTN! Marketing PR and is running for a seat on the Hastings District Council in the upcoming local government elections.

- Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz