Two council websites stand out from the crowd for a stunning performance in keeping the public informed during the recent upper North Island storm.
The storm earlier this week affected a wide area from Northland through Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula. Many areas experienced severe flooding, and high winds caused as many as 180,000 customers to lose electricity. The resulting landslips, blocked roads, damaged buildings and downed trees made life difficult for many and seriously disrupted telecommunication services.
From the moment the severe weather warnings were issued, two councils in Northland began informing the public through their webpages. The Far North District Council, whose region suffered the worst damage, began posting regular updates on the general situation, issuing 11 media releases on July 10th, as the situation worsened. The releases provided details of flooded areas, blocked roads, welfare centres as they opened and infrastructure damage as it occurred.
The Northland Regional Council, which has responsibility for the entire region, stepped up to the mark as well. Their website was regularly updated with bulletins that were concise summaries of events unfolding in Northland. The site homepage had direct links to information on road closures and the status of utilities (electricity, wastewater, water supply and telecommunications) and the data in the various sections was kept fully up-to-date. As the emergency has entered the recovery phase, the website continues to post information on the restoration of electricity and telecommunications – going so far as to identify individual cellular sites still inoperative on both the Telecom and Vodafone networks.
Managing any emergency requires the gathering of information, taking appropriate action and providing information (and instructions) to the public. Both councils gave a stunning performance through their websites.
As the region began to close down this information became less available to residents as electricity and telecommunications failures began to bite. However, it was available to media and concerned members of the public outside the region, allowing key staff to concentrate on managing the situation instead of dealing with enquiries. The information could then be filtered back to residents by radio and concerned family and friends as they made contact.
The detailed information also allowed the large teams responsible for restoring infrastructure to have clear visibility of the entire situation.
The biggest benefit for the councils will come when residents have returned to normal day-to-day life. They will have a detailed audit trail of how the councils managed the emergency and spent their rates dollars.
The performance was a credit to all the staff involved.
Compare this with the performance of the two councils concerned with the situation in the Coromandel Peninsula. The regional council, Environment Waikato, virtually ignored the situation, issuing one statement at 5 p.m. on July 11th. Its Civil Defence information page was a glittering description of the bureaucracy set up to manage an emergency but lacked links to the local councils to which it devolved responsibility.
The district council, Thames-Coromandel District Council, bestirred itself to issue three media releases on July 12th, mainly consisting of news bites and pithy quotes from the mayor and a recycled media release from the Director of Civil Defence. The releases lacked details as to closed roads, damaged infrastructure, and progress with recovery in the Coromandel.
The difference in performance between Northland and Coromandel councils in managing information crucial in an emergency is dramatic.
Another performer in the lead-up to the storm was MetService. Their forecasting was accurate and timely.
It is hoped that the star peformance of the Far North District Council and the Northland Regional Council will become a benchmark for other councils and their emergency management staff.