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Fire & Emergency New Zealand

Fire and Emergency NZ releases Auckland Floods and Cyclone Gabrielle Operational Review

Fire and Emergency NZ releases Auckland Floods and Cyclone Gabrielle Operational Review

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has today released an internal operational review into its responses to the Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle in January and February last year.

Releasing the review, National Commander Russell Wood says the operational review highlighted a number of positives for the organisation, which responded to the severe weather events with urgency and commitment.

"I am proud of how all our people responded and supported communities, especially given many were personally impacted in some way. We have heard so many stories of how our people acted with the highest levels of skill, ingenuity and empathy, in the most trying circumstances.

"It’s Fire and Emergency’s usual practice to carry out reviews of significant incidents to learn from them and to support ongoing improvement. The review found opportunities for improvement around the planning and administration processes that support Fire and Emergency personnel during such significant and intense events," he says.

"Severe weather response is a new and evolving capability for Fire and Emergency and is not one of our legislated main functions. We acknowledge we have a way to go to ensure we are prepared, trained and equipped.

"We will use the Key Insights to improve our organisational approach to planning and operational procedures.

"We will also use these Insights to help us prioritise and improve our training, equipment, resourcing and how we support our people."

Russell Wood says the two severe weather events were catastrophic and unprecedented.

"At the peak of the Auckland floods on Friday 27 January between 4pm and 9pm, we received 650 calls via the 111 service over a thirty-minute period. We had to prioritise attending incidents where lives were threatened, or elderly or unwell people required rescue".

"In the case of Cyclone Gabrielle this was the first time our organisation had to deal with such a widespread and severe weather event across so many districts and regions, at the same time.

Lives were lost, including two of our own. Our sympathy remains with the whānau, friends and communities of those who passed."

Russell Wood says many personnel worked above and beyond what was expected of them to make sure communities received the kind of service they have come to rely on from Fire and Emergency.

"I want to reassure communities that if you need us, our people will be there."

Fire and Emergency has already completed work on some of the areas identified in this review.

Work completed to date:

  • Six trained Specialist Water Rescue Teams have been established across the country with specialist equipment.
  • We have purchased specially designed personal protective equipment (PPE) for our Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams that is appropriate to the environment and conditions that severe weather and Disaster Assistance Response Teams are expected to work in.
  • We have purchased personal safety locators and weather-proof tablets loaded with data in real time for our USAR people when they are working remotely in arduous conditions.
  • A whole of organisation e-learning package for landslide awareness and management has been designed and released.
  • We have reissued our incident response guide that provides officers with hazard assessments and advice on how to operate safely.
  • We have implemented an extended After-Action Review on welfare of our frontline, to allow us to better plan for and respond to our people’s wellbeing needs.
  • Extra disaster response equipment has been developed and dispatched to Northland, Tairāwhiti and Nelson/Marlborough.

Russell Wood says Fire and Emergency has also designed enhanced response training for high priority areas, including rescue, working safely in water, and damage assessment.

"While many of our frontline people have these skills as individuals, we are now implementing crews of firefighters with all these skills who can then respond to natural disasters or adverse weather events as a team in Districts most at risk."

Work underway

We are also:

  • reviewing our Safe Person Concept and Dynamic Risk Assessment process, a model used to identify hazards and make safety decisions
  • undertaking an 18-month programme of work to define the roles and functions of our coordination centres, including a refresh of the Public Information Management (PIM) role and, our organisational approach to and support for incident management
  • reviewing and refreshing all operational policy
  • undertaking an organisational wide review of support fleet and 4WD capacity, including for specialist teams
  • working collaboratively with partner agencies, through the Landslides National Advisory Group, to map and gain an understanding of the risk posed by landslides to property and life
  • reviewing our approach to Local Planning (section 21 of the Fire and Emergency Act) to ensure it enables our response to out of scale events, and
  • developing whole of organisation e-learning modules which cover motor vehicle crashes in water emergencies, response driving around flood water, wading rescue skillsets and officer oversight of water-based incidents.

"We are an organisation expert in fighting fires, providing specialist response such as Urban Search and Rescue, and helping in other emergencies when the call is made. We have not, until recently, been required to play such a major part in responding to such severe weather events," National Commander Russell Wood says.

"With climate change already impacting us we can anticipate an increase in the frequency and intensity of significant weather events and we need to continue to prepare for this eventuality."

"We are committed to making the improvements identified in this operational review so we can continue being there for New Zealanders."  

You can access the report here - https://fireandemergency.nz/assets/Documents/Research-and-reports/Auckland-Floods-and-Cyclone-Gabrielle/Operational-Review-Weather-Events-2023-FA3.pdf


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