Civil Defence review set for January release

A review into Civil Defence’s structure and performance will be released in January, Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi has confirmed.

Faafoi says a “substantive response” to the recommendations is likely to come by the middle of next year, with one priority being greater professionalism within the Civil Defence system.

Under the last government, Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee commissioned a review of the systems in place following confusion over tsunami warnings after last year’s Kaikoura earthquake.

At the time, Brownlee said it was “inevitable” changes would be made to Civil Defence’s structure, adding: "The whole command and control structure of [the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management] needs to be looked at.”.

The terms of reference for the review were released by Brownlee’s successor, Nathan Guy, in June, but he said in September an interim report and Cabinet paper would be prepared for the Government to consider after the election.

Faafoi had initially hoped to release the review’s findings before Christmas, but told Newsroom it was now likely to be released in January after a Cabinet committee this week approved it.

“That’s when we’ll kick things off in terms of giving people the chance to read it, then we’ll engage in what people think of it.”

He had already spoken to several local government representatives “in general terms” about the review ahead of its release.

“As you’ll see when it comes out, it’s going to take a lot of work between central and local government to get capability and capacity to the right places, but they seem pretty happy with it.”

The Government also wanted to speak to iwi groups, NGOs and emergency services to gather their thoughts, as well as members of the public and media.

“There’s no politics in this - we need to make sure everyone’s on board with it.”

“At the end of the day, information that flows other than mobile alerting, a lot of people are going to be getting their information from the mainstream media.”

Faafoi hoped a “substantive response” to the recommendations could be finalised by mid-2018, with work taking place in the coming months on any potential legislative, structural or budgetary changes that were needed.

He had written to the other parliamentary parties, seeking to reinstate a cross-party working group to help consider the report’s recommendations.

“There’s no politics in this - we need to make sure everyone’s on board with it.”

Faafoi said he could not discuss the review’s findings in detail, but did not believe there would be great surprise about its contents.

“It’ll be common knowledge I think to many people with an interest in it intimately that there are some parts of the country which i think have more capacity and capability than others, and we want to make sure it’s standardised and make sure the public can have confidence that their areas or regions are ready to go.”

As previously flagged, there would be a push to recruit more volunteers, but Faafoi said there was also a need to “professionalise the system more than it is now”.

“If you look at local and national [levels], there are some regional councils or local bodies who've got people who are officers of Civil Defence but they don’t do it as part of their day job, it’s an add-on to their day job.

“[It’s about] making sure they've got not only the skills but the confidence to use those skills and making sure we’ve got better systems...to make sure that we monitor the regional bodies are keeping up with whatever training and capacity building they need to keep up.”

Faafoi described the overall Civil Defence system as sound, and said councils and Civil Defence groups had already started making changes in response to the initiation of the review.

He believed the Civil Defence ethos to "act locally, coordinate regionally, [and] support nationally" was still the best approach to take.

“The practicalities make it so, because in those first days and hours, Kiwis are going to have to rely on the people immediately around them to get through the first part of response until, pretty fast usually the local system kicks in.

“Only if it’s a significant issue, we’ve only had one as you know, would we kick in nationally.”

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