Details of a review that could overhaul how Civil Defence responds to disasters have been released.

Then Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee called for the review in February after questioning the emergency response to the Port Hills fires in Christchurch, which destroyed houses and forced hundreds to flee.

At the time Brownlee said he was "perplexed" over why a state of emergency was not called earlier, and questioned why rural fire agencies were leading the response.

New Civil Defence Minister Nathan Guy today released the terms of reference for the review, saying the November 14 Kaikoura earthquake was another reason to have a "fresh look" at civil defence legislation.

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There was criticism of the way the public was informed about the risk of a tsunami after the earthquake, with some residents in low-lying areas not receiving notification of the hazard, or getting mixed messages.

"Some of our experience from recent events shows there are things we could work on and potentially do better," Guy said.

"The scope of the review emphasises that an emergency response needs to prioritise the needs of the community, preventing death, injury and property damage. That means having clear authority and chains of command, good information and communications, and the right capability."

Potential problems identified include decisions not always being made by adequately skilled and experienced people, that volunteers may not always be adequately supported, and the underlying principle of "act locally, coordinate regionally, support nationally" may not be suitable in all circumstances.

There is also a need for timely, consistent and accurate communication to the public, the terms of reference state.

A technical advisory group chaired by former MP Roger Sowry will carry out the review.

Members include Malcolm Alexander, chief executive of Local Government NZ, Assistant Police Commissioner Mike Rusbatch, Deputy National Fire Service Commander Kerry Gregory, Major General Tim Gall from the NZ Defence Force, and Sarah Stuart-Black, director of Civil Defence.

The work will include examination of the chain of command, including who has the power to declare a state of emergency, and whether there's a need for an interim mechanism to manage events that could evolve into a state of local or national emergency.

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A cross-party reference group will support the work, and provide views on any recommendations. This group has met and endorsed the terms of reference.

Members of the public can make submissions on the review by emailing bettercdresponses@dpmc.govt.nz.