Gisborne considers training volunteer teams for emergency response

8:08 pm on 23 May 2024
After Cyclone Gabrielle, the Gisborne city river system flooded. Image from the morning of 14 February last year.

After Cyclone Gabrielle, the Gisborne city river system flooded. Image from the morning of 14 February last year. Photo: LDR / Ben Cowper

Establishing an emergency response team in Gisborne could be "another tool in our toolbox", Mayor Rehette Stoltz says.

Gisborne District Council Civil Defence emergency management manager Ben Green said there were formal response teams throughout New Zealand, but not in Gisborne.

When presenting the idea to the council's Civil Defence emergency management group on Wednesday, Green said the idea emerged after Cyclone Gabrielle last year. More severe weather events are expected on the horizon.

A formal response team would be a trained group of volunteers and would complement first responders, Green said.

"If you've seen the recent reports, there certainly is an appetite for volunteers.

"This is where we can have a trained slate of people who can put themselves into scenarios which we often don't ask people to do."

The training would be paid for by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

It will include emergency response protocols, first aid, risk management, and communication strategies, a draft report says.

The report says there will be three locations for the rapid response teams - team west (Patutāhi) with six people; team central city with 12; and team east (Ruatōria or Ūawa) with six.

NEMA spokeswoman Liz Smith said the response teams throughout New Zealand had many different ownership models, such as trust or council-owned or co-ordinated by a university.

"There's a couple in Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Palmerston North, Wellington, Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough.

"All 16 teams have just had national accreditation visits, so we do an assurance process to ensure that these teams are operating and meeting best practice and minimum standards.

"And that's so that our partner agencies have an assurance that they can task these teams safely and effectively so they can provide surge support when emergency services are stretched."

Gisborne district councillor Rawinia Parata said it was important to acknowledge how far they had come.

"I want to congratulate Ben and the team for being able to think more long-term and strategically about emergency management.

"I think that this is an opportunity to grow some professional and experienced emergency management people based across Tairāwhiti.

"Māori and rural communities will respond no matter what, so it is important to ensure that they have the training.

"I believe this is a space where we can build stronger relationships with iwi and hapū as they can acquire volunteers," she said.

She would have liked to see a couple more teams available up the Coast, she said.

Deputy Mayor Josh Wharehinga said he remembered the workload of Cyclone Gabrielle volunteers.

"I would like to understand how we manage not over-obligating our volunteers," he said.

Green said part of the logic for having three team locations was that apart from the worst case (like Cyclone Gabrielle), teams could be relocated to where they were most needed.

Wharehinga said he was aware this meeting was on the structure of the teams, but if they were to talk about resourcing, he would be comfortable for the spending in rural areas to be higher per capita.

"To me, the city has proximity to a lot of the services, therefore the cost to deliver those services is lower and the cost to fill that emergency gap is lower."

He also said they needed to start looking at water tanks for people in the city.

Councillor Rob Telfer said he was concerned this would be another group that was set up and would work in isolation.

"One thing that came out of the cyclone was the need to have a co-ordinated structure.

"I'm adamant that this should be a part of Civil Defence, and not another group to call on 'if and when'.

"We don't want another situation where groups work in isolation and don't communicate with each other."

Stoltz said how great it was to be in a position where they were taking what they did well, and carrying that forward.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to refine and fine-tune."

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs