Weekly column [May 27] from Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan

Last week, council's Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) closed its operations and staff assigned to it were folded back into their normal roles.

But we are not fully back to normal times.

For me, my sense of normality was blown out of the water by a frightening reality revealed back at a briefing in my office before the lockdown.

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Early at alert level 3, medical officers briefed council's emergency and welfare team on the lethal profile of the Covid-19 virus; particularly its impact on the elderly.

Council's welfare team used this profile of the virus to crunch our demographics data.

If the virus spread through Kāpiti the projection was a potential loss of more than 200 lives!

We were required to plan a worse case scenario including looking at our mortuary and cemetery capacity and staff back-up to manage this.

This grim information was never publicised.

The public message was for the community to stay calm, observe person hygiene and stay home.

But the dark potential of mass deaths bore heavily on the spirit and minds of senior council staff.

There was a risk any misstep could be disastrous.

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In our messaging and actions, there was a strong commitment to stick to the chain of command led by the Ministry of Health.

The public are also unaware of the tremendous commitment of staff.

Staff operating our water and wastewater plants have highly sought skills.

Pandemic or no pandemic these plants had to operate.

With no skilled replacements we could not afford these workers to get sick.

The treatment plant work sites were stocked with food and water and these professionals were prepared to be separated from their families, if necessary, to work and live on site to keep the plants operational.

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Such beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication was also apparent as more than 70 staff were reassigned to the Covid threat response including support for the EOC.

At level 3 and 4 up to 25 personnel were working two shifts seven days a week at the EOC.

They worked with established organisations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Vincent de Paul and new entrants like the Student Army to facilitate the delivery of food, clothing and essential household goods to needy isolated residents.

The EOC was also the conduit to channel critical information from the MOH and national agencies to the public.

What more, council had to manage this under unprecedented circumstances as EOC Controller James Jefferson observed: "All the planning in the world had not prepared anyone for this event."

In earthquake and flood-related emergencies the chain of command for the Kapiti EOC has been managed by the regional civil defence agency.

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This pandemic was a nationwide emergency with MOH the lead agency and, to complicate matters, MSD and MBIE also had roles to play which at times conflicted with the traditional chain of command.

At times, this led to unhelpful pressure on staff in a situation where a misstep could have resulted in a runaway death toll.

But, to the credit of all the parties, processes were evolved to best service the vulnerable in our communities.

Even though the EOC closed its operations last week, we now have a well-oiled team of dedicated staff and community volunteers who can snap back into action if we have a local flare up sparking a local lockdown.

On behalf of all the elected members and the Kapiti district I salute them.

The recovery phase will also see the need for a council reorganisation to face the challenges of a post Covid-19 world.

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Council as an organisation needs the support of our communities to do this.