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How disaster management could work?

MC 09-0353-389Tonga has experienced natural and man-made disasters – and has a National Emergency Management committee and office (NEMO).

The tsunami that destroyed 79 homes, cost nine lives and caused material damage and disruption on the northern Tongan island Niuatoputapu on 30 September 2009 is a potential case study to use in citizenship education about how disaster management works.

Cyclone Rene, which reportedly took no lives but did similar damage throughout most of the inhabited islands of Tonga on 16 February 2010 is another potential case study.

The sinking of the Tongan interisland mv Princess Ashika with the cost of 79 lives in 2009, and led to the establishment of a Royal Commission of inquiry, was a man-made disaster – but offers yet another case study as to how emergency management can work.

Generations of Tongans have encountered cyclones, and other disasters.  Cyclone Waka early this century stimulated New Zealand Tongans to form the Tongan Advisory Council to help contribute to relief.  Tongans, with some help from their people abroad and other donors constructed concrete block houses intended to be hurricane proof. The machinery of government was developed to help manage disasters.

Other countries have also sought to manage disasters – preparation and warning about them, relief and reconstruction after them.

Some national emergency management offices do things of very local, some of national and some of international significance.  They are a part of government that may draw on the whole of government – and more – to manage as best people can.

Information and education are typical parts of emergency management.

A profile about the National Emergency Management office and its committee, publicly accessible, could help locals, nationals and people from afar to inform them on what it planned to do and not do.

Briefings from the emergency managers, provided as educational resource for sections of the public could help citizens and officials prepare themselves for the disaster that might or might not ever come.

Recent disasters have provided case studies of what was available – and what was needed.  Existing arrangements and the experience of tsunami, cyclones and sinkings – can suggest the briefings and profiles that could be written, published and taught in citizenship education.  They can help citizens and officials understand the big picture, how Parliament works, how government works and how the law works when disaster strikes.

Others learn from experience, so can you.

Local discussions could explore what should be done.

Find out more from the New Zealand and Samoan experience – in 2010 they were learning from each other in a tsunami risk management programme.

Media Release                                                            23 February 2010

Tsunami risk management programme updated Tsunami Advisory and Warning Plan and next steps

New Zealand’s tsunami risk management programme has taken another step forward with the announcement today of a revised national Tsunami Advisory and Warning Plan.

The plan sets out national procedures to issue a tsunami warning or advisory.  In doing that it explains the possible sources of tsunami that could reach New Zealand, risks to different parts of the country, thresholds for response, the responsibilities of national and regional agencies, and explains what information the Ministry will provide in warnings and advisories.

The Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, John Hamilton, said that the revisions to the plan are part of the work being done to apply lessons learned from last year’s response to the Samoan tsunami.

“The revisions focus on getting better information to the media, faster.  We have changed our templates, action guides for our staff, when we will use our memorandum of understanding with radio and TV and some of the thresholds for when we will issue a warning or advisory,” Mr Hamilton said.

Next steps after publishing the revised plan include:
•    April – May; the Ministry and GNS Science will conduct a nationwide series of tsunami preparedness seminars for local authorities, civil defence agencies, emergency services and other organisations involved in response to a tsunami warning.
•    Mid-year; completion of tsunami modelling by GNS Science.  This work will enhance the information available in warnings and will be incorporated into future versions of the plan.
•    October; national tsunami response exercise, Exercise Tangaroa.  The exercise will involve central government agencies, the 16 regional civil defence emergency management groups, science agencies, emergency services and other organisations.
Mr Hamilton said that, flowing down from the national plan, it is important that those organisations with roles to play ensure that they understand the national arrangements, have their own plans in place for their regions and specific responsibilities, and exercise their plans and arrangements.

It is still critical that communities and families also have their own household and workplace emergency plans.  This is the personal question of, “what will my family and I do if a tsunami warning is issued?”

The Ministry provides public education information through its Get Ready Get Thru programme, GNS Science provides scientific information, and regional and local information is available from the 16 regional civil defence emergency management groups and their associated local authorities.
“We hope that publicity, like this about the tsunami plan, will also encourage people to do more about their own personal emergency planning,” Mr Hamilton said.

The tsunami risk management programme is ongoing.  To date its work includes:
•    the national Tsunami Advisory and Warning Plan
•    Tsunami Evacuation Zones guidelines
•    Mass Evacuation Planning guidelines
•    the technical standard, National Tsunami Signage
•    a public brochure, Get to High Ground or Go Inland
•    scientific research and modelling about possible sources of tsunami and their threats to New Zealand
•    revising the work processes used by the Ministry’s staff
•    upgrading the national warning system.

Media contact:
Public Information Manager, Vince Cholewa
24/7 media duty telephone 04 494 6951

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If a disaster happened now, would you be ready?

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From Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News representative in New Zealand’s Parliamentary Press Gallery, author of the DecisionMaker Talking business columns and Director of the Centre for Citizenship Education,, email:
Updated 23 February 2010