A Day in the Life Of …

an emergency management officer. Tsunami alerts, wind warnings, swine ‘flu, local floods, scrub fires, storms, earthquake preparedness. These are just a few of the things that occupy the thoughts of the men and women who work in the Civil Defence sector.

Emergency management is the responsibility of local and regional councils in New Zealand. Their role is to plan for and manage local emergencies or local aspects of national emergencies.

The various local authorities appoint emergency management officers to manage their responsibilities and they, in turn, work with government agencies (Police, Fire Service etc.), the community and local volunteers to get the work done when an emergency situation arises. The role of an emergency management officer covers most aspects of emergency management as can be seen in this government job description.

At first look, passing responsibility to local authorities seems a curiously ad hoc approach to managing emergency situations. However, time and again the system has shown that it works. Communities look within in times of trouble, and the first help to arrive when emergency services are stretched is often from a neighbour or friend. Once our immediate environment is stabilised, our attention then turns outward to the immediate neighbourhood and community to see where help is needed next.

There is some doubt as to how well the system will work when disaster strikes a major population centre. With a more mobile population, fewer people in cities identify with their local community than was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, and many now make no effort to get to know their neighbours or participate in community affairs. Nevertheless, the system has been shown to work in smaller communities, providing valuable first-hand support during floods in Northland, Manawatu and the Bay of Plenty in recent years and, of course, during the Gisborne earthquake of 2007. This kept the communities operating during the first phase of the emergency, while authorities focused on containment and recovery.

A staff member of the Porirua Emergency Management Office began blogging about emergency matters in the Porirua basin in July 2008. The blog gives an interesting insight into the day-to-day activities of an emergency management officer with tsunami alerts, local earthquakes, flash floods and community education events some of the matters being discussed.

The need for flexibility in the job is obvious. A nicely planned day can be turned on its head by a heavy rain event, such as happened during July. A tsunami alert required immediate attention in October, but allowed time to visit at-risk locations with a timely warning.

These people are on the front line of emergency management, and the PEMO blog is worth a regular check to see what’s happening in our area.

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