The 4WD club I be­long to has had an emer­gency re­lief team since the early ‘ 70s. I’ve been in it for 40 years. We’ve been in­volved with every ma­jor lo­cal disas­ter in that time. Floods, for­est fires, SAR, earth­quakes, storms, snow- rak­ing, for­est and beach searches, ve­hi­cle re­cov­ery – any­time we can be of help with se­ri­ous 4WD ex­pe­ri­ence, ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cles and a vast knowl­edge of lo­cal roads, rivers, bridges, al­ter­na­tive routes and DOC and farm tracks. Many of our driv­ers are also skilled tradies. We have much disas­ter ex­pe­ri­ence.

We’ve had ex­cel­lent rap­port with agencies through much of that time and had many plau­dits from them and cit­i­zens we’ve helped. Dur­ing the Christchurch ‘quakes our teams trans­ported USAR and oth­ers work­ers about the city and CBD and did recce and de­liv­ery runs. The USAR team I looked af­ter were so ap­pre­cia­tive they do­nated me a team shirt in ap­pre­ci­a­tion. It’s a prized pos­ses­sion. We’ve al­ways, though, had prob­lems with the disas­ter bu­reau­cracy. Civil De­fence in par­tic­u­lar. CD con­sists of a small num­ber of full-time staff and a large num­ber of vol­un­teers that get to­gether only for prac­tices or ac­tual emer­gen­cies. In gen­eral they do a fine job of look­ing af­ter many peo­ple when re­quired. Their ba­sic pro­ce­dures work much of the time, but not well enough for all of it and their com­mu­ni­ca­tion is crap.

This may seem like harsh crit­i­cism for a bunch of will­ing vol­lies but I can tell you, the vol­lie fire brigades are far more ef­fi­cient than CD. Fire crews prac­tise weekly, re­search their ter­ri­to­ries, main­tain their equip­ment and do real train­ing such as pump­ing flood wa­ters, putting tarps to tor­na­doed roofs, res­cu­ing cats from trees, or burn­ing down derelict house for train­ing. They are onto it.

CD ex­er­cises seem to mostly con­sist of a whole lot of peo­ple in a hall shuf­fling bits of pa­per with hand- writ­ten notes sim­u­lat­ing a hy­po­thet­i­cal disas­ter and man­ning the phones, which may not ac­tu­ally be work­ing in a real one. Some of this is es­sen­tial pro­ce­dural train­ing. But there’s not enough real stuff.

We used to at­tend every CD ex­er­cise so they’d know us and our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and we theirs. Every event was a waste of time. It didn’t mat­ter how of­ten we’d ad­vise them of our ca­pa­bil­i­ties they’d never get the mes­sage. We stopped at­tend­ing. And they seem to have no his­toric records. When we’d ring and of­fer help at an emer­gency they wouldn’t know who we were, yet we’ve worked in every one of them since about 1970. Af­ter each time they’d gush over how use­ful we were and thank us very much and prom­ise to call us next time. But there’s no record...

Last year’s Novem­ber quakes came along so we ac­ti­vated the team and of­fered assistance. It was a ‘perfect’ 4WD disas­ter with dam­aged roads and build­ings, liq­ue­fac­tion, slips, flood­ing, etc. Much of it was away from the city with bro­ken com­mu­ni­ca­tions, cell­phone black­outs and sig­nif­i­cant un­cer­tain­ties about dam­age and its lo­ca­tion, es­pe­cially out­side town­ships.

As one would ex­pect, coun­cil, power and road­ing crews were out scout­ing the above but their num­bers are lim­ited and inevitably con­cen­trated on the ma­jor routes. Neigh­bours helped each other, es­pe­cially in farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Many pub­lic and pri­vate bridges, tracks and mi­nor roads were im­pass­able in iso­lated ar­eas. We could have been out check­ing them and de­liv­er­ing sup­plies to take pres­sure from the main crews and adding in­tel to the mix. A pair of skilled op­er­a­tors in 4WDs can of­ten by­pass a busted bridge or a slip.

Kaik­oura was iso­lated via land from north or south. It has a tiny port, which was ham­pered by the up­lift, the air­field is grass and too small

for a C-130. The only other road ac­cess is via the nar­row and tor­tu­ous In­land Rd, it too was badly dam­aged. It was cleared suf­fi­ciently in about four days for the Army to get a 28 ( large) ve­hi­cle con­voy through al­beit slowly.

We knew stan­dard utes had been through with­out prob­lem. So our bet­ter equipped 4WDs would be OK and far less likely to add dam­age to slumped and bro­ken roads than heavy ve­hi­cles. The road was an­nounced to be open to 4WDs on the Fri­day by per­mit only. We ar­ranged to take the en­tire con­tents of the Sal­va­tion Army food ware­house to Kaik­oura on the Satur­day and pro­ceeded to seek a per­mit for that. We had more peo­ple and food loaded than the Army took for Kaik­oura in their pre­vi­ous 28 ve­hi­cle con­voy!

Our co- or­di­na­tor, backed by the Wa­iau and Kaik­oura Fire Ser­vices, May­ors and oth­ers – all des­per­ate for the good­ies – tried for many hours to get the per­mit. He was shunted around CD, Hu­runui Dis­trict Coun­cil, NZ Army, Po­lice, road con­trac­tors and NZTA, each of whom seemed to think they were in charge. None of them seemed to be able to is­sue per­mits. He drew a blank. No ex­pla­na­tion was of­fered. By then we had about fif teen ve­hi­cles loaded up with six to eight tonnes of food and sup­plies, loo rolls, tam­pons, acres of tinned tucker and food parcels, three pal­lets of fresh bread and much more.

Satur­day morn­ing we gath­ered on SH1 ready to go. But there was still no per­mit or ex­pla­na­tion. We had to turn back to town, re­turn it all to a most dis­ap­pointed Sally Army and un­load the whole lot back into their ware­house. By hand, as we’d loaded it. Our co- or­di­na­tor even­tu­ally found that NZTA had taken con­trol of the road – as it was ‘ theirs’ – from the other agencies ( since when is NZTA a disas­ter re­lief or­gan­iser?) When he got through to them on Satur­day morn­ing the re­cep­tion­ist’s re­ply was “I’m sorry, we can’t is­sue per­mits, the boss is on leave un­til Mon­day morn­ing.” This is in the mid­dle of a Civil Emer­gency! About a ship­ment of es­sen­tial sup­plies! It’s his week­end off! Slack bas­tard. How F***- ing ridicu­lous. He should have been dragged out of bed by the scruff of the neck to help us un­load!

This con­fu­sion is en­demic in the civil emer­gency re­sponse area. We see and hear con­tin­u­ing ev­i­dence of power games among them. They don’t com­mu­ni­cate well with each other, or any­one else for that mat­ter. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to get any real in­for­ma­tion from any of them. They ei­ther don’t know, be­cause they don’t talk to each other, or say ‘ No’ be­cause its eas­i­est and gets them off the hook, ab­solves them of any re­spon­si­bil­ity or come­back. Most of their or­gan­i­sa­tion have never been at the coal­face.

They sit at desks in an air­con­di­tioned of­fice with elec­tric lights that work, wear­ing ca­sual clothes with hi­er­ar­chi­cal badges of of­fice pinned to their lapels, wear­ing clean shoes and dry socks, eat­ing catered food, while those out there in the disas­ter strug­gle hero­ically in storm wear and mud, up sway­ing power poles in a snow­storm on a lad­der jammed into holes in the ice, op­er­at­ing a dig­ger be­neath a rock fall push­ing about rocks big­ger than an SUV, and get a cold pie for lunch.

Gerry Brown­lee, bless his well- paid lit tle heart, has promised to do some­thing about it. About bloody time. Disas­ter re­lief, and CD par­tic­u­larly, is a ve­neered sham­bles. In­ef­fi­cient, slow to re­act, sti­fles ini­tia­tive, wastes re­source, thinks it ’s God, which can’t be right as the NZ Army knows it is them­selves. Oh, BTW, the NZ Army will not li­aise with any­one not in a uni­form or hi­er­ar­chy – with­out those you have no known value to mankind.

I’d turned up ear­lier at CD HQ to check on the dam­age sit­u­a­tion and lo­ca­tion and let them know we were avail­able to help. There were a dozen or more peo­ple stand­ing around in a room with sheets of pa­per pinned to the win­dows. There was no ur­gency, a few muted con­ver­sa­tions, some fam­ily chat go­ing on. I was told there ‘was no-one avail­able’ I’d have to wait. I stood around try­ing to keep out of the way of the non­bus­tle. About fif­teen min­utes later some­one came re­luc­tantly for me. Didn’t seem in­ter­ested, was too busy with their im­por­tant task I’d in­ter­rupted.

I learned much more about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and where our team could help by read­ing the no­tices pinned about than I got from this of­fi­cious min­ion.

So Gerry, don’t back down on this one. I know it will slip from peo­ple’s minds af­ter the hol­i­days and fuss is over so would be easy for you to let slide side­ways. Jus’ do it! Pick it up by its badges and shake the shit out of it!

A sorry tale!

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