Friday, March 29, 2024

John Porter: This review is not about apportioning blame

“This review is not about apportioning blame.” So said Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Chair Hinewai Ormsby,  when announcing the review into the performance of Hawkes Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management, post the devastating flooding associated with Cyclone Gabrielle, one of the most devastating weather events to hit New Zealand.

Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle devastated the North Island of New Zealand in February 2023.

In business, you are accountable. Mistakes carry a penalty. People are fired for incompetence. Why is it in the parallel world of government and the public service, the reverse is the case?

So often a government appointed inquiry head states, usually up front, “The primary object of this inquiry is not to attribute blame for what occurred". I see this formulation as the civil servants' outermost defence – “Oh dear, we'll have to agree to an inquiry, but no criticising us for what went wrong.”

You would expect honesty and integrity would be foremost in the minds of the civil servants in question. Following a disaster as serious as Cyclone Gabrielle one could be excused for, foolishly, presuming they would see it as their duty to say frankly that they made mistakes and acknowledge what those mistakes were. Such explanations might do more good than anything they had previously achieved in their roles!

The review into the performance of Hawkes Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management was led by former Police Commissioner Mike Bush.

The Terms of Reference stated -

“The purpose of this Independent Review is to assess the operational performance of the Hawkes Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group’s (the Group)1 response to Cyclone Gabrielle, with a particular emphasis on the systems and processes; roles and responsibilities of Group members and partners; and to what extent the implementation of pre-existing arrangements contributed to an effective management of the response for mana whenua and the community.”

Outcome 2Hawke’s Bay CDEM Group has appropriate capability and capacity to coordinate and effectively manage a response before, during and after an emergency.”

Surely those highlighted words confer the right for Mike Bush and his team to engage in “finger pointing”?

It was not long after we had picked ourselves up from Gabrielle’s impact, collected our thoughts and for thousands of residents, started to think, “what the bloody hell do we do now”, that, worryingly, reports began emerging of very serious failings in communications to residents from Hawkes Bay Civil Defence.

Failures that have led to thousands being displaced, near death situations and worst of all, actual deaths! 11 people died in the flooding.

I wrote, in September after the inquiry was announced –

So, what do you think the outcome will be from this enquiry? will people be held accountable? Will heads roll?

I bet there will be the usual platitudes, hand wringing and profound sympathy to families who lost loved ones. There will be words like learnings taken from the disaster, systemic failures, systems reviews etc.

The most critical failure seems to be when Civil Defence, via a facebook post, reassured residents earlier that night that they didn't need to evacuate.

Talk about providing a false sense of security? Unbelievable!

This is the timeline of the communication debacle 

7:28pm Sunday 12th: The council's principal engineer emailed the emergency operations centre a clear warning. He stated: 

The Esk river is of "serious concern" and that the river was at 4.67 metres at 7pm and "rising fast"

The Mangaone at Rissington is "definitely a concern"

The water level at Mangaone at 7pm was 8.176m, and a "red" level, or one-in-20-year event, is 8.5 metres

It's "quite likely" to rise above the 2018 flood level "within the next few hours."

8:33pm Sunday 12th:  Civil Defence posted on Facebook saying that there was "no need for residents to evacuate and that those who should move have already been contacted."

5.19am Monday 13th: The official evacuation order for Eskdale was made. 

That Emergency text to Eskdale residents urging evacuation was sent nine hours too late! By then, dozens of people were already stranded on rooftops, people were already dead!                                                                           

E-mails show authorities knew homes in Rissington were at "serious risk" the day before they were inundated. Despite this, no official evacuation order was issued! Surely, heads would roll over that level of failure?

Unbelievably for the residents of Rissington,  no evacuation text was ever issued. Again, despite predictions of a one-in-50-year flood event being known by authorities the night before. 

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazelhurst defended Civil Defence staff and told Morning Report she was not appalled by the findings.

"Everybody worked their heart out and did their best.” Is that not one of those platitudes I warned against?

Some Hawke's Bay residents are calling for an apology from the civil defence leaders, many are calling for their resignation!

“This review is not about apportioning blame.” At the press conference where the final draft of the report was made public, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Chair Hinewai Ormsby, once again, saw fit to utter those hollow banalities!

NOT APPORTIONING BLAME! That is simply a cop out!

Tell that to the residents who had livelihoods destroyed!

Tell that to the residents that have had their homes destroyed!

Tell that to the grieving families and loved ones of the 11 Hawkes Bay people who died!

What do you think the family, whose daughter died after she was swept from her pregnant mum's shoulders as they tried to reach safety, think about the “operational performance” of senior management in civil defence? Management who still hold their senior roles!

At 3.00am they were desperately trying to save their lives. But it was not until 5.19 am, 9 hours after Civil Defence were advised - “The Esk river is of "serious concern" and that the river was at 4.67 metres at 7pm and "rising fast!" did Civil Defence issue the official evacuation order for Eskdale.

This disaster must not be allowed to labelled a systems failure. This is a management failure!

John Porter is deeply concerned about the loss of democracy and the insidious promotion of separatism by our current government.  



Anonymous said...

the germans are too honest to be polite. the kiwis are too polite to be honest. make your choice!

Anonymous said...

Oh, but I think you'll find we must now consult with "tangata whenua" - after all they're at one with the environment and are experts in storm and flood management.

Robert Arthur said...

The incredible thing is that floods in the area have been repeatedly demonstrated over the decades.The Esk Valley was no more secret than the 1931 quake but seems to have been ignored. Was there no one left in local government with sufficent gumption to foresee the slash problem? Or do all tha observant retain observations in the hope they can market sometime as consultants?

Peter van der Stam, Napier said...

The first 2 comments are a bit sinical but very true.
What Mr Arthur mentioned was a true problem and never should happen again.
The SLASH, burn it ( OH! Goodness, CO2 release and Jacinda would NEVER let that happen.)
There are those BIG machines able to chip it up and so give the soil some food back.
YES! Most probably, But then, I do know a few more un-economicals happening.
Let all the non processed wood go to China and buy it back as processed building wood.
The other one is: the over population of bureaucrats.
The mis-information which has played a big roll in this disaster.

Anonymous said...

not apportioning blame in this instance is in total contrast to the white island incident. i guess with white island no govt departments were involved.