The Auckland floods: The disaray in Auckland Council

The Auckland floods: The disaray in Auckland Council

I  do not have the energy to go into this here (but I have on Facebook), other than to say that because the Adern government put all its eggs into the covid response basket Civil Defence is in disarray and citizens are basically on their own and helping each other.

Auckland clr Sharon Stewart: ‘it could come back to bite the council’

The last two meetings of Auckland Council’s Civil Defense Committee highlighted two issues that might require consideration by any central or local government review of the Auckland floods.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has now ordered a review into the first 48 hours of the council’s response to the Auckland floods. The Mayor has already acknowledged that the communications to the public on Friday evening were, in his words, “not good enough”.

The review will, no doubt, identify other weaknesses that require attention. Auckland Council’s Civil Defense and Emergency Management Committee meets every quarter. The minutes from the last two meetings held on 14 June and 30 August of last year, together with a recording of the August meeting, highlight two issues which the review may also consider.

  • The first issue is that whilst the Auckland Emergency Management (AEM) team is headed by some highly experienced individuals, many of the team personnel are relatively new to the job and, as at the last meeting, the AEM team was struggling to fill several roles due to a countrywide skill shortage in emergency management.
  • The second issue is that infill housing in areas where the council is aware of a flood risk is identified by the Chair of the committee, Councillor Sharon Stewart, as a problem that could “come back to bite the council”.

Skill shortage

In the June meeting, AEM reported in a presentation that “we have had several of the roles filled now – including the appointment of the Head of Response and Recovery role with John Cranfield. There are still a few specialist roles like GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Business Continuity vacant – we are struggling to find the right applicant. This process has highlight that the Emergency Management sector, like other specialist sectors in Auckland, has a workforce shortage.”

In the August 2022 meeting, the head of AEM, Paul Amaral talked at some length about the staffing issues that he was facing. He stated, “that [in] the emergency management sector countrywide, not only in Auckland, we have a workforce shortage. Every government department, central government, local government, is starting an emergency management division and obviously they’re stripping the skill-force of existing workforces. “

“It’s something that we have identified through NEMA [the National Emergency Management Agency] and the group manager forums that are sitting. Emergency management is also not recognised by government as a specialised skill so if we were to get a candidate from Canada that met all the criteria requirements and experience we wouldn’t be able to get them to New Zealand through a work visa because it’s not recognised as a skill-force shortage. That’s something that we’ve raised with NEMA that if they could try and address that at their level and on the ministerial level.”

“We’ve got two vacant roles at the moment. The GIS one which we’re really struggling to fill and when I speak to my colleagues in council and other sectors there is a shortage in that specific area. And Business Continuity – obviously with Covid, you know everyone’s got business continuity plans that they needed to put contingency plans in place and there’s obviously a big skill shortage. It’s quite a low band role so that might also be a bit of an obstacle for that role. The rest of the roles have been filled. I think we’re about 30 staff now and it’s really great and the team culture is starting to develop.”

Infill housing

At the August meeting, a presentation was given detailing the work that AEM did when it was deployed to assist with the Nelson floods last year. After the presentation the Chair of the Civil Defense and Emergency Management Committee, Councillor Sharon Stewart (who remains the Chair of that committee now) made the following observations:

“I’d just like to say because of what’s happened down in Nelson with the flood, I think it’s really really important that with all this infill housing and this further intensification that we’re going to be having, that as a council we make sure that our consenting and resource consenting staff make sure that anywhere that we know there’s properties that are known to flood and the infrastructures not there, that we’re very careful and we make sure that we don’t allow this intensification in some of those areas.”

“Because I’ll tell you what will happen and I’ve been saying this for a long time going back to 2004 when I was on the Manukau Council with Sir Barry Curtis, we actually got a moratorium and a very big part of Howick and Pakuranga that has alot of flooding and stormwater issues and I wasn’t really happy with the unitary plan because they were allowing to have buildings to be built in some of these areas and now with this further intensification it’s going to be even worse.”

“So I think we need to be a very responsible council and I did see the CEO [of Auckland Council], Jim Stabback, was on the line and I’m hoping that he’s listening to these concerns as well because it will happen one day in our community what’s happened down in Nelson and I think it’s far better to make sure that we use all the tools we have to make sure we don’t allow development to go into places that it shouldn’t be going in.”

“And I’m just looking – I can see Ron Devlin [Fire Emergency New Zealand] there and you know I can remember listening to some of your concerns – I won’t go into all of them because some of that was in confidence – but all this intensification is going to be causing alot of problems for Auckland.”

“And we have to make sure that we get it right and the wise words of Sir Barry Curtis, who was a very respected mayor, all this intensification should be happening in stages and what is happening at the moment, we’ve got intensification happening all over Auckland and in alot of parts we already know that there’s issues in some of those areas so I think we need to be a responsible council and hopefully this civil defense committee, we can send some strong recommendations to our consenting staff and all those that have the authority, to make sure that we don’t get it wrong because we too could have something similar to what’s happened down in Nelson.

“And alot of those people, they probably won’t ever be able to move back into their homes and I know that the Insurance Council, they’re coming down very very heavy at the moment and they’re saying that if it’s known and, you know, it could come back to bite the council if we allow intensification to go into some areas that we know have got problems but anyway I’ve probably said enough …”

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