18 Jan 2018

'Fly-in' squads proposed for disaster response

5:59 pm on 18 January 2018

A national agency featuring 'fly-in squads' should be set up to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, a ministerial review has recommended.

Firefighters try to save a house from fire on Port Hills in Christchurch. The fires destroyed nine houses and one helicopter pilot died fighting the blaze.

The report was commissioned after the Kaikōura earthquakes and Port Hills fires. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The report was commissioned by the previous National-led government following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes and the 2017 Port Hills fires.

It recommends establishing 'fly-in' squads that can be deployed in the regions and greater staff training.

The report said there were marked variations in how Civil Defence responded to emergencies around the country, as well as different understandings about responsibilities and authority.

At the moment, emergency response roles are spread across different areas of Civil Defence, local and regional councils and the government.

A national agency would provide "greater autonomy, transparency, and status for emergency management".

Professional development of staff was patchy and key roles were often part-time, the report said.

"There is no assurance that the people on the spot will have the training, capability, or aptitude needed to respond to an emergency," it said.

"No one wants response efforts being undermined by having the wrong person in the job."

It also said there was no "real career path" for staff.

"Training and professional development is very patchy and there are no required professional standards or accreditation."

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi said it was clear more must be done. He said there had been some shortcomings in the past, and he was determined to make improvements.

"I've already started some discussions and that will step up as people have a chance to look at the report and consider what it has found.

"It's critically important to take the appropriate time to get this right and to make sure we have heard back from those involved, including colleagues in the cross-party forum," he said.

"The overall direction of the report is for a more professional emergency response system that involves stronger implementation of the existing legislative framework - although some new legislation will be needed - with strong national leadership and local collaboration."

Other recommendations in the report include clearer protocols with iwi and giving mayors primary authority for declaring states of local emergency.

The recommendations will be considered by the government as it meets with local authorities, iwi and other groups over the next few months.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs