Emergency HQ stays

Civil defence emergencies will be managed from the Waitaki District Council headquarters in Oamaru from now on, despite lingering concerns about how safe the three-storey building would be in an earthquake.

The debate over where control of emergencies in the Waitaki district should be located follows a report from the Ministry of Civil Defence saying the existing operations centre in Severn St behind the Plunket rooms is no longer suitable.

• Civil defense costs up

That split the council at its meeting on Tuesday, some arguing for using the council chambers, others wanting to delay any decision until it was known whether the headquarters building was earthquake-safe. In the end, the council voted 6-5 to use the chamber buildings for managing emergencies and use St Kevin's College as an alternative.

The council also decided to get an updated earthquake assessment of its headquarters building in Thames St, then review its suitability for civil defence management operations.

The Severn St building and adjacent hall has been used as the base for emergency and rural fire staff, along with managing emergencies such as flooding, tsunami and extreme-snow events. In recent years, it has become unsuitable, with the council setting aside $500,000 to build a new emergency management centre.

The proposal to use the council chambers will cost the council only about $10,000.

Emergency and rural fire staff will remain in the Severn St building, the council chambers to be used only for civil emergencies.

Strategy group manager Richard Mabon said when the council redeveloped the former chief post office in 1993, it was strengthened to meet the building code of that time.

However, councillors wanted to know whether the building met today's building code.

Staff had attempted to get a structural engineer's report on the building, but overwhelming demand on consultants from the Christchurch earthquakes made that impossible.

Chief executive Michael Ross said if the building was damaged in an earthquake, obviously, civil defence could not be managed from there and the alternate centre would be used.

Being based in the headquarters was convenient for staff, who made up most of emergency staff, particularly for both training and exercises.

Cr Jim Hopkins was critical of the Ministry of Civil Defence which recommended the council headquarters be used but did not know whether the building was earthquake-safe.

Emergency services manager Chris Raine said Oamaru was in a low-risk category for earthquakes and tsunamis. Risk probabilities should allow the council headquarters to be used for managing emergency events.

The St Kevin's College auditorium could be staffed as an operational centre within 45 to 60 minutes.

The council chambers will be prepared as an emergency management centre, mainly by ensuring computers, radios and other equipment can be moved there when it is activated.


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