Speech to New Zealand Emergency Management & Business Resilience Summit

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - 11:27
Civil Defence

Thank you for your warm welcome. 

It’s a pleasure to be here this morning.

Thank you to our Chair, Jon Mitchell, for your kind introduction.

I would like to acknowledge our recently appointed Director of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, Sarah Stuart-Black, who will speak after me, and our featured speakers:

  • Associate Professor Scot Miles, from Western Washington University
  • Pierre van Heerden, General Manager of Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing
  • Jamie Fitzgerald, who has walked unaided to the South Pole and holds the world record for rowing across the Atlantic, and
  • Superintendent Matthew Vanderbyl from the Queensland Police.

Change at MCDEM

Since I spoke to you at last year’s summit, there have been major changes at the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, known as MCDEM.

The Director who led us through the response to the Canterbury earthquakes, John Hamilton, retired after more than 40 years of public service, and a new Director, Sarah Stuart-Black, was appointed.

The Ministry also moved from the Department of Internal Affairs to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, known as DPMC.

It was always a pleasure to work with John Hamilton.

I wish him well on his retirement, which I know is already full and busy. John is currently engaged on a review of New Zealand’s search and rescue system, and I’m sure we will see more of his contributions to our country.

I’m delighted that in December last year, Sarah Stuart-Black was appointed our new Director. Sarah has been with MCDEM since 2003 and was the Acting Director after John’s retirement.

Sarah has a thorough understanding of New Zealand crisis management arrangements and the national security system, and has strong operational experience in New Zealand and overseas.

She has also been a member of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team for the past nine years.

A born and bred Kiwi, Sarah originally worked in New Zealand as a nurse, before expanding her career overseas.

Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Disaster Management, and a Masters in Research in Disaster Management.

Her experience has seen her involved in responses to emergencies as diverse as a food crisis in Ethiopia, terrorist attacks in London and the devastating Canterbury earthquakes.

We’re lucky to have a Director with Sarah’s experience to fill this important role.

One of her major tasks, which she will talk to you about in more detail, is completing the integration of the Ministry into its new parent agency, DPMC.

On April 1 last year the Ministry became part of DPMC.

This move strengthens the Ministry’s and New Zealand’s ability to plan for and respond to large scale emergencies, and to coordinate the national support needed.

DPMC leads national security planning.

Having the Ministry within DPMC benefits that planning and gives the Ministry a greater role in working across government to strengthen national emergency management arrangements.

New Zealand’s civil defence emergency management system is world-leading in involving communities and local government in emergency management.

This focus will not change.

Our approach of local responsibility, regional coordination and national support has been tested many times since 1959 by floods, storms, landslides, volcanoes and earthquakes.

It remains our philosophy because it works.

The move to DPMC will strengthen the coordination of national support that can be provided when it’s needed.

Our civil defence system

Before I talk about my priorities for the next three years, I want to outline some core principles of our civil defence system.

Civil defence emergency management relies upon several things.

It relies on communities addressing known risks.

It relies on people being prepared.

And it requires that agencies at all levels have effective response and recovery processes.

But it’s local and regional authorities who do the day-to-day job of coordinating civil defence emergency management and putting it into action.

A key goal of mine is to create resilience in our communities.

This can be achieved by fostering commitment and participation at all levels, including central government, local government, businesses, volunteer organisations, families and individuals.

Resilience means being ready to change and having the ability to survive and adapt in the face of adversity, then come back stronger.

An emergency can occur at any time.

At all the levels we are working at, local, regional or national, we must know our hazards and be ready to respond.

Civil defence emergency management issues cut across government and portfolios.

The Ministry and I work closely with other Ministers, agencies and stakeholders, taking an ‘all hazards, all risks’ approach.

The move to DPMC has highlighted how seriously the government takes this responsibility.

Priorities for the next three years

I would now like to outline five of my priorities for the civil defence portfolio for the next three years:

  • a national public alerting system
  • strengthening the statutory framework for recovery from emergencies
  • public education
  • international engagement
  • a review of the civil defence emergency management strategic framework.

I will speak to each of these in a little more detail.

National public alerting system

If an emergency happens, people need to know about it, so they can take appropriate action. 

That leads to the question: how do you get information out to people in time?

I have proposed a national public alerting system.

This would enable civil defence emergency management officials and other emergency services to give people timely, authoritative warnings and information, direct to their mobile phones.

The messages would be sent nationally or locally as required by the emergency.

This will save lives and prevent serious injuries in emergencies such as tsunami.

Since the transfer to DPMC, MCDEM has made good progress on this project.

If Cabinet agrees, we will progress a business case that has been prepared for the project.

The problem we need to overcome is that existing warning systems are uncoordinated.

Approximately 20 different public alerting methods are used by government agencies and emergency services, so the ability to directly alert the public in a given geographical area is weak.

I’m working with the Minister of Communications, because any public alerting system would need to be joined to her initiative to upgrade the 111 emergency response system.

Strengthening the statutory framework for recovery from emergencies

To make a successful recovery from an emergency, a lot of people need to get stuck in on the ground and get a lot of work done. 

But we need to have the right laws and guiding policies in place, to enable the people on the ground to do their work.

New Zealand’s experience of recovery from emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes, has identified the need for robust legislative and policy frameworks.

We also need planning that will enable a timely and effective recovery and a seamless transition from response.

MCDEM is leading the review of the New Zealand legislative framework for recovery.

The review takes an ‘all hazards, all consequences’ approach, so that any policy or legislative change can adapt to a range of emergencies, not just natural hazards.

At this stage, the review’s scope is to progress changes to the CDEM Act.

These changes aim to ensure the Act can support a timely, coordinated recovery from small to moderate emergencies.

The review also seeks to provide authority and a stronger mandate in the Act for those directing, coordinating and managing recovery.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, or CERA, is currently reviewing its legislation, which expires in 2016, and the legislative tools required to support the ongoing Canterbury recovery.

MCDEM and CERA are working together to ensure alignment between the MCDEM and CERA reviews.

Public education

Being prepared is crucial for any emergency. 

The better prepared you are, the better your chances of being able to handle whatever the emergency may throw your way.

Since 2006, New Zealand has run a public education programme aimed at improving household preparedness.

The programme, branded as ‘Get Ready Get Thru’, consists of a mass media campaign, a schools’ education resource and advertising in the telephone directories delivered to every household and business in the country.

The actions we advocate people take are:

  • have enough food, water and emergency supplies to last at least three days
  • have a household emergency plan for what to do when you are at home, work, school or wherever you might be, and
  • review your plan.

The schools’ resource has been reviewed and updated in line with changes to the national curriculum.

The mass media campaign is independently surveyed each year by a market research company.

New Zealanders’ preparedness has increased significantly since the benchmark survey in 2006.

The measure of people “prepared at home” is up more than 40 per cent and that of “fully prepared” has more than doubled.

However, the preparedness of New Zealand communities is still too low, and we cannot be complacent.

We have reviewed the campaign and will be making changes to expand its reach.

I expect to announce the outcomes and next steps from this review soon.

International engagement

New Zealand is highly regarded worldwide for its civil defence emergency management system, and we aim to be a good global citizen. 

This means we’re well placed to share our knowledge, expertise and resources internationally, and support other countries in emergency management.

The focus of the Government’s overseas programme is helping Pacific Island nations strengthen their own national capability.

We want them to achieve strengthened disaster risk management across the 4Rs of risk reduction, readiness, response and recovery.

I will enhance New Zealand’s commitment to supporting resilience and emergency management capability in the Pacific.

As part of its International Engagement Programme, MCDEM has signed a partnership arrangement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for disaster risk management in the Pacific.

Under the arrangement, which lasts until June 2019, MCDEM will share its technical expertise with Pacific Island nations and, if needed, support their response to emergencies. 

Review of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Strategic Framework

As I’ve already said, a lot of the work in a civil defence emergency happens on the ground, in the local community. 

But the work that happens locally is ultimately guided by a broader plan that sets out what we do and how we go about it, as well as a broader vision of what emergency management is in New Zealand, and where it’s going.

As many of you will know, MCDEM is reviewing the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan.

Shortly, it will begin to review the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Strategy as well.

Both documents are key components of the CDEM Strategic Framework.

The reviewed Plan, along with a guide to the Plan, will be published by the end of 2015.

This will be a significant milestone, incorporating many of the 108 recommendations from the independent review of the response to the Christchurch earthquake.

The revised Plan and guidance will provide a more comprehensive and integrated set of planning arrangements for CDEM across the 4Rs.

MCDEM will review the Strategy over the next two years.

The Strategy sets the long-term direction for CDEM in New Zealand and is a key platform for integrating local and national CDEM priorities.

The review provides an opportunity to build on lessons from the Christchurch earthquakes and other emergencies, and it will involve wide engagement with stakeholders at all levels.

Through this process, I envisage a substantial change in our approach to emergency management in New Zealand, particularly towards our goal of developing more resilient communities.

Simultaneously, MCDEM is reviewing the performance of the CDEM sector.

This second, National Capability Assessment of each of the 16 CDEM Groups will provide an overview of nationwide emergency management capability, and will feed into the review of the Strategy.

Closing remarks

I’d like to take this opportunity as the Minister of Civil Defence, on behalf of the Government, to thank you all for your dedication and commitment to civil defence emergency management.

You can all be proud of the work you do and your achievements.

I’m looking forward to this evening’s function, where I will present Ministerial Awards for Civil Defence Emergency Management. Congratulations to everyone who will receive an award.

I hope many of us will be able to come tonight to celebrate these contributions to our country.

I will close here.

This conference is a great opportunity to learn from each other, and share your ideas about the future of our civil defence emergency management sector.

I’m happy to take questions now.