Auckland Council was caught napping by the flash floods

People being rescued from their homes in Auckland after the deluge on January 27, 2023 (INL File Photo)

Independent Inquiry finds fault with Emergency Management and other systems

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 14, 2023

The deluge that devastated public and private properties and loss of lives in Auckland on January 27, 2023 and the disruption it caused to infrastructure, and road closures in the ensuing 48 hours have proved that the Auckland Council was ill-prepared says an independent report.

The Review, undertaken by former Police Commissioner Mike Bush on behalf of his Bush International Consulting released this week, said that Auckland Council’s emergency management system, its operating model and the relevant plans, policies and procedures, were not prepared for an event of this magnitude and speed.

Gaps in preparedness

“There were gaps in preparedness, including for flood and superstorm emergencies and these were known to key Council decision-makers in advance, but at the time of this flood event, they remained in ‘work in progress.’ The later declaration of emergency, establishment of evacuation centres and related public messaging came too late to provide Aucklanders with timely public safety advice and reassurance,” the Review said.

It said that the flood incidents provided critical insights for the future management and leadership of complex and unpredictable emergencies in New Zealand’s Supercity.

“Over the 48-hour period beginning Friday, January 27, 2023, the beginning of the Anniversary Holiday weekend, Auckland experienced a widespread flood event, involving significant transport and infrastructure disruption, mass evacuations and loss of life and property. This unprecedented event unfolded with extraordinary speed; minutes mattered. From the time Auckland Council emergency managers stood up an incident team at 4.30 pm, to the end of that team’s first, virtual meeting at 6.15 pm, much of the damage was done,” the Report said.

It said that the declaration of emergency, establishment of evacuation centres and related public messaging came too late to provide Aucklanders with timely public safety advice and reassurance. The flood event offers critical insights for the future management and leadership of complex and unpredictable emergencies in New Zealand’s Supercity.

The flash floods wreaked havoc, damaging properties and claiming lives in Auckland on January 27, 2023 (INL File Photo)

Optimism overrides Auckland Council

The Bush Report indicated that the Auckland Council (meaning the Mayor and his executives) were ‘too optimistic’ to have proper planning in place.

It said that the move to Supercity (in 2010) contributed to that bias, leading to the belief that the size of Auckland Council could handle anything.

It said that instead of adopting a model that is based on central planning and localised delivery, the Council’s emergency response was premised largely on centralised coordination and delivery of the response. This system weakened the localised intelligence flows that could have supported better-targeted community responses.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown accepted the recommendations of the Independent Review and pledged to implement its recommendations.

“The tragic events of January 27 have affected us all deeply. Four people lost their lives, and hundreds have lost their homes. I have acknowledged that I dropped the ball that night – the communications were not fast enough, and I was too slow to be seen. I stand by my previous apology to Aucklanders,” he said.

Mayor’s Pledge

The Report confirmed that the Mayor signed a declaration of local emergency immediately upon the advice that he received and that emergency services did not require or request an earlier declaration.

Other problems with the Council’s preparations and response were also set out in the report, which included the Office of the Mayor receiving timely and accurate information about events as they unfolded.

“I accept that I should have been more assertive in demanding information so that I could provide Aucklanders with public safety advice, practical support, and reassurance. I assumed that the systems were better than they were. The preparation was not good enough, which was clear from the fact that some of the planned Civil Defence Centres flooded on the night which contributed to delays in establishing the sites. That should not happen, and we need to make sure that we can set up those sites faster in future,” Mr Brown said.

He assured Aucklanders that he is now focused on making sure that ‘we all do better.’

Auckland Council Chief Executive Jim Stabback said that he, the Council’s executive leadership, and emergency management staff will consider the Report’s findings, and recommendations and prepare an implementation plan.

“We remain committed to ensuring Aucklanders are prepared for an emergency and being ready to respond when the worst happens,” he said.

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