NZ Symposium on Disaster Risk Reduction opening address

Monday, June 15, 2015 - 10:45
Civil Defence


Good morning. I would like to thank Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Mayor Lianne Dalziel for being here today, as well as other representatives from local government.

I would also like to acknowledge Sarah Stuart-Black, the Director of the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, and all of the MCDEM staff who are here today.

Thank you for the huge amount of work that you have been doing.

It’s a pleasure to be here at the first-ever New Zealand Symposium on Disaster Risk Reduction.

This is the first time we’ve held an event aimed at a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk reduction.

Today is about collectively reviewing our progress, and discussing our future direction so we can work better together to reduce risk and create more resilient communities.

We are breaking new ground, which means other countries such as Australia and Italy are looking to us. They are keen to understand how we action the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It’s great to see the turnout and calibre of people here today.

The breadth and variety of presentation topics on the agenda shows the commitment we have to risk management in New Zealand, as well as the strength of our current research and practice.

Thank you all for being here to focus on addressing the challenge of how we manage the many risks we face, now and in the future.

Strengthening our Civil Defence Emergency Management system

When the Canterbury earthquakes happened, as devastating as they were, they have led to a strengthening of our civil defence emergency management system. This is helping to deliver a stronger and more resilient country.

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

Out of very tough times, a shining light since the earthquakes has been the enhancement of our civil defence emergency management system.

A key goal of mine is to create better resilience in our communities. We can only achieve this through commitment and participation at all levels, including central government, local government, businesses, volunteer organisations, families and individuals.

Several years ago I presented at the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction conference, and I said this about our system:

"The New Zealand framework requires local government to be responsible for planning and providing civil defence emergency management in their own areas. They are supported by regional groupings and the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management. A number of reviews of the response to the Canterbury earthquakes have shown that our current framework and underlying principles are sound, and appropriate for the New Zealand context."

However, I do want to acknowledge that while many reviews may consider our overall New Zealand framework to be world-leading, there has been a lot of work over the last few years to strengthen every part of the framework. 

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, and we must be well-resourced to manage each aspect of an emergency, from mitigation to preparedness to response to recovery.

I now want to outline some of the key aspects of how we’ve been strengthening our system so far, before I get on to further risk reduction initiatives.

Lifting our response capability and the National CDEM Plan

Firstly, I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister for his support to transfer MCDEM into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This has strengthened our ability to respond to major disasters and given the Ministry a greater role in working across government to strengthen national emergency management arrangements

This shift, enabling a greater reach across government, will be crucial to enabling much greater risk reduction and more resilience in planning and infrastructure. 

Another key piece of work over the last few years has been implementing  almost all of the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Response to the Canterbury Earthquakes.

We have also aimed to strengthen CDEM leadership by securing funding for a controllers’ course. I hope to be addressing the next scheduled course in July.

As you will be aware, in the last few weeks Cabinet approved the new National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan. 

The revised Plan is the result of years of work and incorporates a number of recommendations of the Christchurch Earthquake Response Review Report, as well as feedback from stakeholders on the need to more comprehensively address risk reduction. 

Revising the Plan was a collective effort, involving over 70 local and national agencies.

Thank you to all those people who have been involved in the development of the plan.

It’s a significant milestone on our journey to learn from and incorporate lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes, as well as other emergencies that have occurred since the Plan was first developed.

We believe these improvements have resulted in a more robust, complete, and well-understood set of arrangements for CDEM.

Key changes include:

  • clarifying the role of lead agencies, to provide greater understanding of who is responsible for planning the management of particular hazards during an emergency, eg MCDEM for natural hazards, NZ Police for terrorism, Ministry for Primary Industries for biosecurity, food safety and drought
  • better recognising the important role the New Zealand Defence Force can play in an emergency - this includes helping with evacuation, cordon management, aerial reconnaissance and deploying goods and services to affected communities
  • implementing new arrangements for building management, including building safety assessment to protect land
  • better recognising the role of research and science organisations such as GNS Science and MetService
  • enhancing welfare services arrangements to better meet the needs of affected communities during emergencies.

Strengthening our Recovery framework

Last year we took another step in strengthening our ability to recover from major emergencies. I released a plan for the temporary relocation of Parliament to Auckland after a potentially devastating quake.

Our ability to recover from major emergencies requires the Parliament and Executive to be fully functional.

The plan outlines arrangements covering a worst case scenario, where the impact of a major earthquake is so severe that Parliament and Executive Government could not function effectively in Wellington. The relocation allows Government to continue to govern effectively, while mobilising national and international support for Wellington.

Another priority of mine is a two-stage review of the legislative framework for recovery.

I’m pleased to announce today that I’ve recently obtained Cabinet’s agreement to progress changes to the CDEM Act. These changes will ensure the Act can support a timely, coordinated recovery from the most frequent types of emergency, which are those of a small to moderate scale.

This is about providing authority and a stronger mandate in the CDEM Act for those directing, coordinating and managing recovery.

Recovery is defined in the revised National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan as “the co-ordinated efforts and processes used to bring about the immediate, medium-term and long-term holistic regeneration of a community following an emergency.”

Recovery begins on day one of response.  

The package agreed by Cabinet so far is focused on creating a flexible and adaptive system based on existing provisions in the legislative framework, which will enable recovery to be timely, focused and effective.

The changes made to the CDEM Act will:

  • establish the role of National Recovery Manager (similar to that of National Controller) and provide that the Director CDEM can delegate certain functions and powers to a National Recovery Manager
  • provide for the National Recovery Manager to provide national and additional support to a CDEM Group, if the recovery is beyond the capability and capacity of the Group to manage and coordinate
  • require each CDEM Group to appoint a Group Recovery Manager and alternate persons for the role, and establish powers of delegation for Group Recovery Managers
  • enable a CDEM Group to appoint a Local Recovery Manager or Managers (ie, at the territorial authority level) at their discretion
  • disestablish the role of Recovery Coordinator provided for in the Act (a National Recovery Manager would assume a similar role when required)
  • require CDEM Groups to prepare strategic recovery plans to complement currently required CDEM Group Plans.

The suite of proposed powers is adapted from those used to respond to an emergency for the protection of life and property (those provided for by the Act during a state of emergency). 

Given the different demands of response and recovery, the proposed recovery powers are not as extensive as existing response powers. 

Proposed recovery powers provide the ability to:

  • carry out works, clear roads and other public places, and remove, dispose of, secure or make safe dangerous structures and materials
  • provide for the conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies such as water
  • disseminate information and advice to the public
  • evacuate premises and places, and exclude people and vehicles
  • enter onto premises, eg to perform an assessment
  • close roads and public places
  • give directions to stop any activity or to take any action, to limit the consequences of the emergency and potentially for the purposes of coordinating recovery efforts
  • require information for the recovery, eg from lifeline utilities.

Under the new law, a transition notice (similar to the declaration made during a state of emergency) will be published, to provide greater public visibility of local and central government agencies’ activities to clean up and restore communities.

I want to thank all the CDEM Groups and local government representatives for their help in developing the first stage of the new recovery framework. I expect that I will have legislation before Parliament within the next two months.

The second stage of this process will be about options for developing draft legislation for recovery from large-scale emergencies.

This work will go hand-in-hand with other work underway, such as reviewing the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, and reviewing emergency building management under the Building Act, and hazard risk management under the Resource Management Act.

Disaster risk reduction and the work underway

Moving on to risk reduction, one way to reduce risk is through good early warning systems.

Last year, I commissioned a $250,000 initial business case to investigate the introduction of a telecommunications-based public alerting system.  This has now progressed into the development of a full business case. 

As you know, it’s important that when looking at early warning systems and public alerting, we ensure there are a range of mechanisms to alert people. This could include radio, television, sirens, social media, landlines, cell networks and web based apps. 

This business case, plus the enhancement and development of a range of tools, will enable a much stronger early warning system.

The progress I’ve just mentioned has addressed issues across the ‘four Rs’ of reduction, readiness, response and recovery, but as you can see there have been huge developments to improve our response capabilities.

Today’s announcement is another step forward toward a stronger recovery framework as well.

We recognise that more attention must be paid to reducing the underlying risk factors that create disasters - the hazards and threats we face, and our exposure and vulnerability to them in terms of economic and social capital.

If we’re serious about minimising New Zealand’s future losses from disasters – protecting the lives and future prosperity of the country – our goal must be to manage risk, not manage disasters.

The 3rd United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction took place in Sendai, Japan, in March this year. Nearly 50 New Zealanders attended the conference – a clear demonstration of the commitment we have to this issue.

The Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030 is the new global blueprint for how nations should approach disaster risk.

The Framework challenges countries to better understand their disaster risk, and strengthen arrangements to manage it. In other words, move from managing disasters to managing risk.

New Zealand was one of 187 UN member states to make a formal commitment to the Framework.

Here in New Zealand, we’re well advanced in many areas of disaster risk management, including comprehensive research and understanding of our natural hazards. However, understanding our hazard-scape is just the first step along the path of risk reduction.

The challenge for all of us gathered here is to progress the national conversation on managing disaster risk. We want to know:

  • how well are we as a nation doing against the Sendai goal of disaster risk reduction?
  • where are the gaps?
  • where can we do better?
  • how do we monitor progress and measure success?

I understand you have a very full day ahead of you, including discussions about economic risks and resilience, building/infrastructure risk and resilience, and strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk.

Ministers take these issues very seriously, and there is already some work underway which addresses elements of risk reduction. 

These pieces of work include, but are not limited to:

  • amending the Resource Management Act
  • undertaking a review of the Building Act, specific to earthquake-prone buildings
  • developing a National Infrastructure Plan, coordinated with the National Infrastructure Unit of Treasury
  • including ‘Resilience to Nature’s Challenges’ in the National Science Challenge - where the aim is to understand the natural hazards that may occur in New Zealand, and to build socially and economically resilient communities
  • working with local government to assess whether local government’s management of the risks from natural hazards to infrastructure and other assets can be strengthened.

The Ministry is leading the process to review and re-develop the National CDEM Strategy this year.

It’s my intention that our refocused national strategy will emphasise:

  • analysing and addressing underlying risk factors
  • preventing the creation of new risk
  • reducing existing risk
  • strengthening resilience.

The counterpart to an improved Strategy is improved governance.

My Ministry, and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, have both been considering options for strengthening the coordination and governance of risk reduction issues through the National Security System.

I know there have also been wider conversations about how we progress this issue together, as a collective New Zealand effort.

I look forward to hearing the ideas that come out of today’s discussions. 


Thank you all again for being here today. 

New Zealand has always had a strong CDEM system that is focused on acting locally, coordinating regionally, and supporting nationally.

Over the last few years we have delivered a significant programme of work to strengthen every part of our civil defence system.

Today is another step forward through the announcement of new legislation to improve recovery.

Our challenge is to ensure that we all work together across society, from public agencies to the private sector to communities, to mitigate and reduce the impacts of disasters.

Thank you.