Mayor: We Want to Make Civil Defence Sexy

8 June 2009

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast says new efforts will be made to bolster emergency preparedness in the Capital - including working to raise the profile of civil defence "and make it a bit more sexy".

Her comments followed yesterday's meeting, which she hosted, of civil-defence volunteers, local MPs, city councillors and council staff which discussed the restructure of Wellington City Council's emergency management office and concerns about the state of civil defence in the city.

"There was discussion at the meeting about the very nature of civil defence - and the fact that a lot of people find it a dry, rather boring, topic. It was agreed that the City Council should make more effort to make civil defence more sexy.

"While some might find that amusing, or feel we are trivialising civil defence by saying such a thing, there's a deadly-serious intent behind trying to make civil defence more sexy - to get far more people involved as volunteers and far more families aware of the need to be prepared for a major earthquake or some other large-scale emergency."

Mayor Prendergast says some speakers at the meeting criticised the City Council for being party to a decline of the civil-defence volunteer network in the Capital - yet  the restructure of the emergency management office is precisely to help reverse the decline.

"The Council's Civil Defence Controller, Mike Mendonca, is very open in his opinion that he is not satisfied with the current state of emergency preparedness in the Capital and that he wants improvements.

"I totally support Mike's initiatives and his reorganisation of the office - and I am highly confident the city's civil defence preparedness will be strengthened in coming months."

Mayor Prendergast says this year's Phoenix regional civil defence exercise, scheduled for November, will fully involve the city's civil-defence volunteers and will be followed by a formal debriefing process that will allow volunteers to make their views known.

"By then, Mike's reorganisation of the office will be complete and bedded-in - and volunteers will have a better appreciation of why the changes and improvements were made."  

Mayor Prendergast says the meeting agreed that it is difficult "in all facets of life in the 21st century" to encourage people to volunteer - including for civil defence. "However Mike is confident that a review of the city's civil-defence centre network - and the hiring of a new emergency-preparedness manager for the city - will enable initiatives to improve the support of the volunteer networks.

"It'll mean we can introduce training programmes, events and resources that will help make civil-defence volunteering more meaningful and interesting."

Issues like the advent of apartment-living in Wellington's central business district and the resulting big surge in the central-city population in recent years are a challenge in terms of emergency preparedness, Mayor Prendergast says. "We now have thousands of people, a quite-transient population, who might not know what to do or where to go in the event of a big quake or other emergency. We're going to have to do some creative thinking about how to help these people to help themselves get prepared and survive a major emergency."