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Plug-in civil defence emergency device being piloted on the Coromandel.

29 November 2019

A pilot project involving a plug-in device to alert Coromandel residents about civil defence emergencies was one of the agenda items discussed by our Council’s new Emergency Management committee, which met for the first time this week.

EOC team members with Garry Towler

Pictured above - The Emergency Management Committee from L to R - Thames Councillor Martin Rodley, Whangamata Councillor Terry Walker, Thames Councillors Robyn Sinclair and Sally Christie and Garry Towler our Civil Defence Controller).

The Committee, which will meet quarterly, is made up of Thames councillors Robyn Sinclair and Sally Christie (who is Committee Chair), Mayor Sandra Goudie and Whangamata Councillor Terry Walker. Thames Councillor Martin Rodley will be called on as stand-in when required. The Committee will be briefed by Garry Towler, our Civil Defence controller and invitations will be extended to managers of our partner emergency services (Fire and Emergency New Zealand, St John, Police, Waikato District Health Board), when necessary.

Highlights from the first meeting

Indoor Alerting Device (IAD) project. - After three years of research and surveys this indoor alerting device project enters a user acceptance trial in the New Year, which will see 300 devices (IAD’s) being trialled around homes in the Coromandel. The devices are “plugged,” into an electrical socket in a home where cell-phone coverage is sketchy, so that residents will be able to receive a civil defence alerts The trials will be over a period of seven days, with the devices being tested up to four times, to see if these residents are successfully receiving emergency alerts. Surveys show us that the national Emergency Mobile Text Alert, (which was tested last Sunday around the country), has only about a 40 per cent successful strike rate in the Coromandel to cellphones, due to limited cell coverage.

Tsunami siren maintenance – Assessments of all the tsunami sirens across the district has found them all in varying conditions of use, with the sirens on the eastern seaboard having more wear and tear due to the coastal environment. Our Council spends approximately $6k annually maintaining these sirens. Over the next year the Committee will be looking at the future viability of the tsunami sirens on the Coromandel, as if the IAD project is a success, the expectation will be to move away from sirens to the IAD over the next decade

Tsunami evacuation lines – Many councils around the country have introduced blue lines to show safe places for people to evacuate to, if there is a tsunami. This is an initiative this committee will be investigating further with Civil Defence for our district.

Staff training - We now have 17 Council staff trained up to come and help with the Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) should an emergency occur. This is the first response team who will manage the first two shifts. Behind this team we have another fifty plus staff who are capable of carrying out any number of duties required when managing an emergency. This is double the number from last year. All of our Council staff are provided with some form of civil defence training as part of their job with us.

Sectorisation Project – This is another pilot programme in partnership with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ). It involves specific Geographical Information System (GIS) data being shared with FENZ through an app, so the fire service can directly target the communities most in need of support, during an emergency. For example, if we have a flood and need to call in FENZ help from other districts for help, specific GIS maps/data is able to be accessed by any sort of device (ie phones/ipad) so the emergency responder is able to go directly to the affected site. The data shows which areas are vulnerable to hazards such as flooding and slips, it also displays which communities have community response plans in place and  peak population figures.

Civil defence kits and sites – Six new Civil Defence Centre kits have been delivered to six sites in the Coromandel, where we have had previous emergencies (particularly around weather events). The sites are Whangamata, Tairua, Whitianga, Coromandel, Te Puru and Thames. The kits contain such things as radios, vests, welfare forms, torches, first-aid kits and space blankets. These will be unlocked by our Community Response Teams and will help provide greater resilience during an emergency.

School education campaign – Throughout the year Pam Balt and Heather Flynn from our Emergency Management department visit schools to help promote civil defence and emergency management messages. It’s really important that the messages we share with our younger kids around potential civil defence disasters like earthquake and tsunami are about being prepared. The team also has civil defence messages in most of the school newsletters. There is also Emergency Management Procedures for the Mercury Bay and Coromandel Area Schools on our website here

Public education campaigns – We regularly put out messages around resilience, preparedness and what to do when an emergency happens. Ahead of summer our Mayor Sandra will be doing some live stream on our Council’s Facebook page with Garry from our emergency management team on 10am Thursday 5 December, as well as interviews with FENZ and the police. We also promote preparedness messages in our local newspapers and radio stations. To find out what official channels to go to during an emergency go to this page here 

Sandbags - We have sandbags stored, which can be made available during any emergencies. In 2018 we distributed a large number of sandbags along the Thames Coast during an extreme weather event

Summer emergency action plan - Hundreds of thousands of holiday makers are expected on the Coromandel over this peak summer period, which we already know is going to be a hot, dry season. So the major risk we are keeping a close eye on is wildfires. In our district we’ve already had several occasions where our fire index has hit 80 out of 100 and some of the water tables around the district are at 50% - which means our aquifers are low and our soils are starting to get really dry. There’s also been high, fast, spring growth, which adds fuel to fires.

With all of this evidence our council’s emergency management team have met with FENZ and established a new protocol around responses to wild fires in particular, so if FENZ gets called out to any bush/wild fire – ourselves, Civil Defence and other agencies are alerted straight away, so we can get into action around logistics (road closures, communications, human and animal welfare etc).

Summer sees the district hosting more concerts and events. Civil Defence has been working with major event promoters to make sure they have an Emergency Management Plan, while emergency services will be on duty, with help from volunteer staffing within some emergency services where they are stretched. Additional resources may also be bought in from other regions for the peak period. in our district, how to stay informed and be prepared see our website here