2 Oct 2009

Civil defence response to tsunami to be reviewed

11:48 am on 2 October 2009

Civil Defence Minister John Carter says there will be a formal review into the civil defence response to the Pacific tsunami alert, as it was not good enough.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issued a tsunami warning about an hour after the 8.0 magnitude quake off Samoa, which hit at 6.48am on Wednesday, and downgraded it to a threat advisory shortly after 11am.

However Wellington International Airport, a 'lifeline utility' which is legally required to continue operating in an emergency, says it was not notified about tsunami alerts.

Airsite operations manager, John Barnden, says calls to the Civil Defence Ministry and the local Emergency Management Office also drew blanks.

And a Northland seismologist has described information put out by authorities as confusing and potentially dangerous.

"There is certainly a lot of room for improvement and one of the things I'll be looking for and am expecting is a debrief", Mr Carter told Morning Report.

"We certainly had problems around communication so there's a number of lessons for us to be learned."

The ministry's civil defence director, John Hamilton, says he's unaware of any problems in getting information to lifeline utilities. Media and electricity and telecommunications entities are also classed as lifeline utilities.

Mr Hamilton says although the civil defence response wasn't a bad one, the ministry will be reviewing the sequence of events to improve its performance in future.

Information 'confusing'

Northland seismologist Chris Buckley says the information put out by authorities about the tsunami was confusing and potentially dangerous.

Dr Buckley says the warning was downgraded just as the wave action was getting started in the north.

He says boats that had sailed out to sea from Tutukaka Harbour were starting to come back in, but had to turn round and fight their way out of the narrow waterway again.

Dr Buckley says the boats had to rely on contact with people on shore who could see what was happening and tell them when it was safe to return.