Whakatāne mobilises pandemic, civil defence teams

1:29 pm on 31 March 2020

Whakatāne District Council has created a pandemic planning team and an emergency operations centre to optimise its response to Covid-19.

Whakatāne District Council

Whakatāne District Council Photo: Charlotte Jones / LDR

Mayor Judy Turner said the pandemic team was staying connected with key agencies such as police and the Ministry of Health to make decisions related to the council's response to the coronavirus.

It is led by the council's general manager for community services, Mike Naude, and has representatives from various council departments including human resources, IT, welfare planning and operations, infrastructure and communications, with others brought in as necessary.

It was created in February in response to the escalation of the coronavirus epidemic, which is now a global pandemic.

Turner said the pandemic team had reversed the council's earlier decision to close all public toilets in the district and instead decided to keep eight key toilets open for the use of truckers and homeless people.

She said essential workers like truckers were not permitted to use supermarket bathrooms.

"We realised we had nothing open for them and would be creating another type of health issue if we did have them all closed," she said.

"They will be cleaned regularly to Covid-19 standards."

The pandemic team is in charge of ensuring critical council services keep operating, distributing Ministry of Health messages to council staff and the public, providing clear information to council contractors, and providing staff and the public with advice on welfare, cultural and other support.

The team has also enabled the adoption of the council's pandemic plan, the update of the council's business continuity plan, and a review of its crisis management plan.

The team will continue to meet remotely throughout the lockdown.

Turner said the emergency operations centre would deal with everything consequential to the Covid-19 lockdown but not necessarily directly related.

The centre, which was active as at midnight on Sunday, will support the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence Group Emergency Coordination Centre, which reports to the National Emergency Management Agency.

This will provide a structure to manage an increasing volume of requests for information and assistance, and the growing demand for a coordinated response across the district. This includes with iwi, social service providers, businesses and contractors.

Councils put back-up plans in place for decision-making

The Whakatāne, Kawerau and Ōpotiki district councils and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council last week formed emergency committees to ensure council work could continue even if several elected members fell ill.

Each council created a new committee consisting of three, or in Ōpotiki's case, two, elected members.

Turner said even though the Whakatāne emergency committee was made up of only three elected members, all elected members would be kept in the loop before and after decisions were made.

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