31 Mar 2014

Clearer communication needed - Dunne

6:32 pm on 31 March 2014

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne says it's crucial that emergency services know who is in charge and work to establish clear lines of communication in the event of another major emergency.

Peter Dunne.

Peter Dunne. Photo: RNZ

His comments on Monday follow the release of a Coroner's report into the collapse of the CTV building during the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February 2011.

Coroner Gordon Matenga says the search and rescue effort did not contribute to the deaths of eight people who survived the initial collapse of the building in the central city. However, Mr Matenga criticised nearly every aspect of the response of the Fire Service to the tragedy that claimed 115 of the 185 lives lost.

Mr Matenga notes that by 11pm on the night of the quake, which had struck 10 hours before, not one of the 13 Fire Service executives in the city had deigned it necessary to base themselves at the CTV building - the place where by far the greatest number of people were trapped of any of the sites around the city.

Mr Dunne says that emergency services work well together every day in response to smaller events - but that must also be the case for major disasters.

"It highlights the point that we need to get the responsibilities more clearly identified so that we know exactly who's in charge at the time of the incident and we know exactly what the response might be."

Prime Minister John Key said on Monday he feels for the emergency services, as what they had to deal with on the day of the quake was enormous. He believes Mr Matenga has come up with a number of good recommendations.

"I'm sure the emergency services will take that on board and look to factor those in. But both the extreme nature of what took place there, and the severity and scale of those issues that were taking place in Christchurch on that particular day, is something that will always be challenging for emergency services to cope with."

Civil Defence says the Coroner's findings are an opportunity to work with emergency services to ensure they have correct roles and systems in place.

The Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, John Hamilton, says he can understand how a complex situation like the CTV building collapse with insuffienct resources can become a real challenge for those on site.

Mr Hamilton says the next phase for the emergency services, particularly the Fire Service, is to ensure that they understand their roles, where there is more than one disaster site to deal with.

The Labour Party says fire service personnel were let down by the failures of their management. Earthquake Recovery spokesperson Ruth Dyson says the lack of leadership made it much harder for those working on the ground on February 2011.

"The people what were doing the work in the CTV building and other sites throughout Canterbury are the heroes. The organisational structure, the lack of leadership really let those people, as well as the families and the people inside the building down."

However, Ms Dyson says there is no appetite for a witchhunt in response to Mr Matenga's report among people in Christchurch, including those who lost family members.