A day in the life: Emergency Management Officer in Kaikōura

AS town hall

Below are some reflections from our Civil Defence Emergency Management Officer Kd Scattergood on things that she found most challenging and also what she learnt as an EMO during the Kaikōura earthquakes. 

 

Visit the 'Getting Ready for an Emergency' page to read about how you can prepare yourself and your whanau for an emergency. 

Visit the 'Kaikōura Gets Ready' page and sign up to receive real-time alerts from Council during an event, as well as register needs, skills or resources that might be essential during an emergency.

 

On this page:

 

Challenges for local Civil Defence (CD) after an emergency

Delivering education and encouraging engagement in CD like most things, has its challenges at the best of times. Some may think that directly after an emergency it becomes 'easier', but in fact it just evolves into a different kind of challenge. 

We know from research both within NZ and internationally, that immediately after a disaster preparedness rates rise sharply. In Kaikōura, the 2017 Residents satisfaction survey (conducted around 7 months post quake) showed that 90% of households in Kaikōura considered themselves prepared. We also saw the community more engaged with each other.

After an emergency, people respond in many different ways, and you need to balance trying to get people to be prepared for another event, with feeling safe in their environment. The community needed some of their confidence built back up, and in some cases this wasn't being constantly reminded that they had to be prepared for another event. I myself, found some situations challenging and overwhelming at times. 

It's hard to know what to do after such an overwhelming personal, family, community and work life disruption and easy to beat yourself up about what you did and did not do. There was a lot going on in the months following the quake. Honestly, I felt my ability to be effective at my job waxed and waned as I went through my own recovery. 

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Education and workshops following a disaster

In the months following the quakes, we focused our messaging on continuing to do what worked and fix what didn't. Our community had experienced first-hand more than we could have ever prepared them for, so they knew, in most instances what would work again and what needed changing. 

In the March following the event, I hosted some tourism and disaster workshops. Following feedback, I also hosted some personal preparedness workshops. During the meetings, the first thing I did was put my cards on the table and confessed I was uncertain about how to deliver preparedness talks to people who had experienced such a large event. Their reaction was great and we ended up turning what first seemed like a challenge, into an opportunity. 

Each group shaped their own workshop and the diversity of new people to town and old hats in CD meant that we were able to discuss and work through lots of different thoughts and actions around being prepared. The workshops were a really great opportunity for those who wanted, to share their stories with others in the community. 

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Fatigue after an event

One of the biggest challenges that continues today is fatigue. People were and still are, emotionally and physically tired. My focus for helping people get prepared has been telling them to do what they can, when they can, in a low key way. I am hoping to re-engage with communities this autumn to develop disaster plans which match what communities need with what they are able to give. 

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Successful Emergency Management Response (EMR) and local/social impacts

Welfare: We were lucky enough to have two groups (the Red Cross and Māori Wardens) attend a CD Centre Training for welfare prior to the earthquake. These two groups worked together during the earthquake response and recovery and did a fantastic job at supporting the community in the welfare sector. The Council will continue to work with these two groups to create a Community Response Team to promote resiliency, preparedness and providing help in an emergency. 

Community: Research shows, and I truly believe, that community groups and neighbourhoods who had strong ties before the earthquake were able to do a lot of good, fast work during the response. These same communities continue to be able to engage with each other and Local and Central Government during recovery. An example of this is the ladies who run the Op Shop, who went from raising funds for the hospital, to offering the elderly a place to gather for a cup of tea during the weeks following the response. They continue to be a focal point for the larger community.

Coastal: The values that Kaikōura's community hold for their coastal, marine life, and management of marine area are some of the strongest. Te Korowai o Te Tai o Marokura (Kaikōura Coastal Guardians) were able to advocate these values following the quake. With their 11 years of prior work on Kaikōura's Coastal area, they were able to work with Central Government during response and recovery, and really push the importance of Kaikōura's Coastal environment. 

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Lessons for CD planning in coastal areas

  • Long. Strong. Gone. Drop. Cover. Hold. It’s as simple as that.
  • It's important to talk to people about having an evacuation plan for older friends and whānau, that includes someone living close to them assisting.
  • One thing that is often overlooked are landslide dangers in hilly areas. People need to assess their environment when coming up with an emergency plan and catering their plan to their surroundings.
  • Securing things down is also vital. 

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Looking back and moving forward

The feeling of community in the first months after the disaster was amazing. It takes a long time to digest and come to terms with what has happened and everything was, and in some ways still is, up in the air.

In terms of response, it's important to remember how overwhelming a large disaster is combined with the effects of adrenaline on people’s ability to retain information. Emergency management need to plan for information overload both externally to the community and internally in the EOC. So much of the first month is a blur.

The demands on Council staff are enormous. They go from full response mode to a new crazy work environment all while dealing with their own personal situations. I am so proud of my co-workers and community dusting themselves off and getting stuck in and helping each other and the tourists.

Everyone’s experience of the earthquake is both so similar and completely different. In those first months, you can feel 8 separate emotions before noon!

What would I do differently? Personally, lots of things - you can really doubt yourself after a response. Top of the list would be to wear more comfortable shoes and look after myself better so I in turn, could look after others better.

After going through an event like the one Kaikōura did, it really pushes you to reflect upon what's just happened, how you did your job and how you can work towards preparing the yourself and the community again. Everything is both the same and completely different. It’s a time of great possibility and great loss and we won’t know for years how the effects will all play out. All we can do for now is keep supporting each other in moving forward.  

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