Crisis preparedness still lacking: expert

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JACK CONROY@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

A Clutha civil defence expert says the area is better prepared for an emergency than other parts of the country, but more work still needs to be done.

Emergency Management Clutha officer Brendon Smith regularly travels around Clutha and wider Otago making sure individuals and communities are prepared for the multitude of threats nature can throw at them.

“I think we’re a lot better prepared than we were 10 years ago,” Mr Smith said.

Eighty-one percent of Clutha respondents to a 2018 Emergency Management Otago survey listed floods as their top concern among possible disasters.

Mr Smith said this was to be expected in a primarily farming area with a river running through it.

“In Kai, Inch Clutha and Paritai we’ve got more than 18,000 milking cows,” he said.

“If there’s going to be a flood, we’ve got plans with all our farmers at trigger points of the river, where we’re going to evacuate to and move their stock so that when the flooding comes in everybody should be safe.”

It was important to remember that each part of the district had different major risks.

“Milton’s problems will not be the same as Lawrence’s.

Civil defence workers were active in the community, making sure residents were aware of the risks in their areas and the plans in place to combat them.

“For example, in Taieri Mouth, we’ve got the tsunami evacuation zones map, and every house has got one of these.

“And there are civil defence volunteers in each community we would contact to help with a response.”

Many people in rural parts of Clutha were better prepared to deal with emergencies than their counterparts in large cities, Mr Smith said.

“Hunters and farmers can have a lot of food stored up and can more easily be self-sufficient.”

But that was no reason to be complacent.

“I think one thing we’ve learned over the past few years is that no-one is safe.”

Preparations at both the individual and household level would help combat a variety of emergencies, from earthquakes to pandemics.

“We try to help people be more resilient. We recommend having enough resources to last three days.

“But as we saw with the Christchurch earthquakes, it could be up to seven days.”

He recommended households store enough food, water and medicine to last those first few crucial days when essential services were strained or unavailable.

Also useful was a “grab› and›go” bag containing only the items required if someone needed to evacuate their home.

“I always recommend people photocopy their important documents like their passport.

“Because once it happens, you often can’t return to the house.”