Barrie Keenan addressed Karori Rotarians on the subject of civil defence and community resilience at their meeting on 11 July.
Barrie introduced himself as mainly retired but with continuing interests in civil defence, the Wellington Hospital Chaplaincy and Scots College. He is the secretary of the Karori Community Hall Trust and has been involved with civil defence in Karori since 2004.
Emergency events by their nature are unpredictable but what we can predict is that they will continue to occur. New Zealand has a rich history of emergency events with recent examples including the Ngauranga Gorge slip, the Edgecumbe floods and the Port Hills fire.
Looking back through history we have the formation of Lake Taupo, possibly the 3rd largest volcanic eruption in history and the Mount Tarawera explosion. Although much attention has been paid to earthquakes we also increasingly need to consider emergencies caused or enhanced by global warning.
We know from recent experience that the recovery costs of earthquakes are high but the recovery costs from volcanic events could be much higher still. How are we to respond to such events?
The recent Kaikoura earthquake occurred just after midnight on the 14th November. The town contained 2,500-3,000 residents and approximately 1,000 visitors. The first responders found 4,500 people completely land locked. Coasts had been lifted 1-4 metres. Three out of five water reservoirs were damaged and power and phones were out.
Most fortunately a naval task force comprising ships from New Zealand, the US, Canada and Australia was exercising in the area. They were able to evacuate 450 visitors and others within 24 hours using helicopters. Water was available again after 5 days, the inland route was cleared and things moved back towards normalcy.
This provided a clear example of what could happen in Wellington, perched on multiple fault lines with limited routes in and out of the city.
Barrie touched on changes that have taken place to civil defence in recent years. These changes have been driven in part by apathy from local populations. The current policy is for trained people to be able to travel to areas of need. This is a layered approach, in Wellington it involves a Wellington Regional layer backed up by a national management layer. These should be able to provide escalating levels of response.
Ultimately there is no substitute for individual preparedness. Adequate food and up to 600 litres of water would be required for most households. Groups of 1-5 households in a street would need to band together to help each other. We must recognise that the geography of the Wellington region is bound to make matters much worse than those that occurred in Christchurch for example.