Storm stirs up discussion
This may be one of the valuable lessons learned for future events, she said.
Kaikoura police sergeant Matt Boyce says he was in radio contact with southern communications, and the NZTA website was updated with road conditions as they came to light.
‘‘Some individuals may not have known, but we were in contact with police outside the district.’’
He believed the fact the West Coast was more significantly affected could have been the reason the media did not focus on Kaikoura.
‘‘We could look after ourselves . . . what else could you do bar getting contractors to fix [the roads and telephone cables]?’’ he said. Boyce said Kaikoura could have asked for external assistance had it been required, but fortunately Kaikoura still had power and the phone lines and internet were only out until Saturday morning thanks to the Chorus technicians who worked through the night.
Both the St John ambulance service and Kaikoura District Council had satellite phones working on the day. However anyone in an emergency situation would not have been able to access 111 via phone if their lines were down.
Boyce said telecommunications companies do everything they can to ensure 111 calls are connected to the service requested, although if all else failed, it would be necessary to report the emergency in person, which is why a police officer was manning the police station throughout the recent outage. It is understood a contractor was also stationed at the telephone exchange to take 111 calls and relay them to the national line via satellite phone.
Regarding medical alarms, Martin Fox, customer service centre manager at St John’s Auckland headquarters, said the system did have back- ups for situations including loss of power, and loss of landline. In a situation where a person’s cellphone was not working a relative’s would be used. However this would not have covered the very worst-case scenario as seen in Kaikoura when everyone was without phone coverage.
Kaikoura Volunteer Fire Brigade chief Ian Walker was not impressed with the way things unfolded and said communication should have happened sooner. The first he knew of the outages was when he went to use his phone on Friday morning and discovered there was no coverage. He was not impressed that he had not been informed.
‘‘ I was bloody horrified,’’ he said. ‘‘ All emergency services should have been notified as soon as they knew the fibre optic cables were down.’’
The impact of the storm came as no surprise to those who had lived in the district long enough, he said, and road closures and other measures had not been put in place early enough.
‘‘ All emergencies throughout history in Kaikoura have always been caused by excess rain coming from the north. It’s known as contractors’ rain because of the slips it causes.
The roads and rail always go. And the rivers always come up quick too.’’
As early as Thursday morning the brigade was called out to a van stuck in one of the fords on Postmans Rd, and this road should have already been shut, he said.
NZ Transport Agency maintenance contract manager Barry Stratton conceded there were possibly some delays in closing the roads because of the telecommunication problems.
The agency relied on information from on-site contractors to make such decisions based on its emergency procedures and contingency plan manual.
Contractors were out on the roads stopping motorists and ensuring their safety, he said.
The road between Christchurch and Kaikoura was not shut, which many people have since questioned, because it meant travellers were stranded in Kaikoura once they arrived and those who had planned to drive to destinations further north were unable to inform friends or accommodation that they were not turning up.
Mr Stratton said closures were put in place at points where motorists have access to food and shelter, and were safe to wait in Kaikoura until the highway could be reopened.
In a letter to the editor last week, Scott Robertson said local businesses would have liked to have been able to inform travellers arriving in Kaikoura about the situation as it unfolded, but they didn’t know any more information than the travellers did.