When a disaster of great magnitude strikes, the hope is that people in positions of power might learn from it.
The downpour detonation in Auckland on Friday has left people dead, a damaged city, and images that won’t be forgotten.
Houses teetering on clifftops. Traffic stopped on both sides of the motorway by a lake of rain water. People wading through local streets as though the monsoon had hit here. Video of a bus ploughing along a drenched road with a river running along its floor.
When another powerful storm system arrives, as it inevitably will, Aucklanders will want the city to be more resilient and the people running it to remember to keep 1.6 million residents informed.
After days of tracking a coming storm, there was a MetService warning on Thursday of potentially heavy rain on Friday night. That would be during part of the evening drive home or when people might be going out.
The weather was bad on Friday morning with difficult driving conditions even then. There was ample time for local authorities to alert people during the day to the fact it was expected to get worse, even if the extent was still a surprise.
During the day the Auckland Airport weather station recorded 70mm of rainfall. Between 6 and 10pm that went up to about 240mm across the city. There were about 2000 calls for help then.
In all, 249mm fell in 24 hours to 1am on Saturday.
Communication is an essential part of trying to lessen the impact of a disaster through some prevention.
Driving north on State Highway 1 and then to Waterview in the afternoon between 3pm and 4pm the electronic signs were only telling motorists to keep a safe distance and for motorcyclists and people in high vehicles to take extra care on the harbour bridge. At that stage there had already been some flooding and calls for assistance.
People needed phone alerts of the worsening storm and advice so they could get home or shift to higher ground early. In particular the suburbs being hit hardest needed attention. A live press conference to announce a state of emergency and evacuation centres in the early afternoon would have helped.
It is standard to receive texts about appointments, bills and events. It should be standard to receive updates by phone in a crisis, before the worst of it happens. Kiwis got warning messages about Covid on their phones. Auckland Emergency Management sent a similar message for rain warnings - last night.
In an emergency, people are reminded of the worth of conventional leadership. People want a calm, competent person strong enough to give them reassurance, empathy and advice. Someone who represents and can embody the city at that time of crisis.
Mayor Wayne Brown, who did say “this will be a terrible night for thousands of Aucklanders and their families”, will nevertheless be remembered more for the tone deaf “my role isn’t to rush out with buckets”. His role is at least to get out in front of the response.
A review into what happened should look at how to improve the city’s ability to cope with storms.
Climate scientist Professor James Renwick of Victoria University says “we’re going to see more of these events, unless we can get on top of emissions and stop the climate from changing”.
New Zealand’s biggest city needs to learn from this.