$1m announced for dedicated Northland emergency coordination centre

A dedicated Northland emergency coordination centre will be built in Whangārei in a bid to improve the region’s response to future natural disasters.

The project was announced during a site visit on Friday by Minister for Emergency Management and Recovery Mark Mitchell, who said the government had committed just over $1 million to get the project over the line.

Northland’s four councils have already raised the other $6.5m required.

Currently, the regional response to emergencies such as last year’s Cyclone Gabrielle is run from makeshift facilities at the Northland Regional Council headquarters in the town centre.

However, the shortcomings of that site became clear during the March 2021 tsunami alert.

Fire and Emergency (FENZ) Northland manager Wipari Henwood said with the council building located on low-lying ground in the tsunami zone, the response coordinators themselves had to evacuate to higher ground.

A purpose-built centre would allow different agencies to work together better and pool limited resources.

“Having an emergency coordination centre will be great. We’ve seen it work in other places. We’ve had to do as best we can with our current facilities but definitely that tsunami event, where we had everybody here [at FENZ headquarters in Whangarei], although it was crammed, you could look across the room, get the decisions, and make things happen immediately,” he said.

The multi-agency centre would be built on FENZ land, behind the city’s central fire station.

Fire and Emergency property manager Mal Tipton, left, gives Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell a tour of the emergency coordination centre site, with Northland MP Grant McCallum, right.

The site had been chosen because it would save councils having to stump up for land – significantly reducing the cost of the project – and because it was well out of reach of tsunami and floods at the top of Fire Brigade Hill.

Henwood said the centre would not just benefit Northland during emergencies.

“If we’re co-located with Civil Defence, it’ll be the start for better collaboration right across the agencies. We’ve got to collaborate better and we’ve got to be more joined up. We’ve got thin resources, so we have to utilise those resources a whole lot better.”

FENZ property manager Mal Tipton said the single-storey building would cover an area of just over 1000sq m and accommodate up to 40 FENZ and Civil Defence staff during “business as usual”.

During emergencies, it would accommodate about 60 staff.

Depending on the scale of the emergency, internal walls could be moved to expand the size of the central control room.

Tipton said the project was still in early stages and a resource consent application had yet to be lodged.

Some of the existing wooden, two-storey buildings would be shifted off the site to make space.

Making a symbolic start to the project are, from left, Northland MP Grant McCallum, Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group chair Kelly Stratford, Fire and Emergency Northland manager Wipari Henwood, and Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell.

Mitchell praised “outstanding work” by Northland councils and Kelly Stratford, the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group chair, in coming up with the plan and raising more than $6.5m.

He felt strongly that central government should pitch in, hence the $1.04m contribution.

New Zealand needed a strong response to weather-related events, tsunami and earthquakes, he said.

“We know we’re going to have to keep dealing with these, and a big part of that is having a network of emergency coordination centres throughout the country.”

Mitchell said the only country more likely than New Zealand to be hit by such weather events was Bangladesh.

He acknowledged FENZ for the organisation’s vital role in emergencies, and for offering the land required for the new centre.

“That means this project can be realised without councils having to find more money to invest, when their balance sheets are already under a fair bit of pressure.”

The announcement was attended by all three Northland mayors – Far North’s Moko Tepania, Whangārei’s Vince Cocurullo, and Kaipara’s Craig Jepson.

During emergencies, each district will continue to run its own response centre, though the overall response will be coordinated from Whangārei.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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