Tourists issue in natural disaster

Civil Defence Emergency Management director John Hamilton, of Wellington, briefed civil defence counterparts at the Queenstown Lakes District Council last week on readiness and responses to natural disasters. Photo by James Beech.
Civil Defence Emergency Management director John Hamilton, of Wellington, briefed civil defence counterparts at the Queenstown Lakes District Council last week on readiness and responses to natural disasters. Photo by James Beech.
The national controller in charge of the response to the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 says tourists in Queenstown are a boon to the economy, but a burden in an emergency.

Civil Defence Emergency Management director John Hamilton, of Wellington, advised the Queenstown Lakes District Council on Friday what the role of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is in an emergency and how ''the four Rs'' of risk reduction, readiness, response and recovery apply.

''We're talking about leadership in the emergency response, so I've been asked to reflect on my role, which in Christchurch was the national controller during the earthquake response.''

Mr Hamilton said the council had ''a pretty good handle'' on the risks.

The Lakes district had unique impacts in an emergency, such as the number of visitors who were likely to be be unprepared to the same extent as residents, isolation from major centres and restricted access, but has managed flooding and rock or landslips.

Mr Hamilton said legislation held local Government responsible for ''the four Rs'', with the ministry assisting, although every district had its own hazards and risks and council Civil Defence staff needed to think about how to manage them.

''We know tourists are the basis for the economy here, so you want to make sure there are mechanisms in place which can find a balance between not scaring the daylights out of them, but be able to deal with them.

''There are translations of all our messages about being prepared available, but if we went to Shanghai, we wouldn't read them either, so who would be available on the local radio station to provide messages in an emergency to non-English speakers?'' he said.

As Christchurch demonstrated, Lakes district residents would be the first to deal with an emergency on their doorstep.

The council would set up its emergency operations centre at headquarters on Gorge Rd and the ministry would activate its national plan, which includes reconnaissance using military aircraft.

''At the same time, at the community end, all that information is gathered by the council's ops centre, they use whatever resources available to go to the worst-hit area and then, if necessary, pull in national resources to assist,'' Mr Hamilton said.

''The operational priorities are standard, as they were in Christchurch. Find and help the injured, make sure people have access to a modicum of shelter, food and water and from there on you make sure you have access rearranged.''

Mr Hamilton said tourism was significant not only to New Zealand's economy, but also its global reputation.

''We know you can't stop earthquakes or tsunami, but you can do things to be better prepared to minimise the consequences, so that's what we're saying here.

''Think about the risks, think about what you might be able to do as part of the contribution to preparedness and then if it did come about, you're already stepped up the ladder.''