Annual report 2011 mandatory image

Emergency management

In a year where the country has faced an unprecedented level of extraordinary events, emergency management has become a core part of the Ministry’s work.

Support in a crisis

The country was rocked by the Pike River Coal Mine disaster. As part of the small West Coast community, our people were directly affected by the tragedy. We worked quickly to assess immediate needs and our frontline staff provided key support to affected families. As at 30 June 2011, the mine remained closed. Since the explosion, we have also provided short-term payments to those workers who lost their income and helped workers look for other opportunities.

The farming community has suffered a number of environmental shocks over 2010/2011. We also wrapped around the farming communities to help them through the immediate effects of floods, snow and drought, often in the form of short-term payments. When stock losses are involved, the effects of an event are often longer term. Our people continue to work alongside communities to ensure the right support is provided when it is needed.

It was the earthquakes and aftershocks that started on 4 September 2010 in Canterbury, which provided us with some of the greatest challenges as an organisation.

The Ministry is present in almost every community in New Zealand, so we have frontline staff and resources available wherever a major crisis may happen.

Canterbury earthquakes

The Ministry led the national co-ordination of the emergency welfare response for the Canterbury earthquakes. Our size, agility and network of relationships enabled us to respond promptly.

Leading the National Welfare Co-ordination Group, we worked closely with nine government agencies, The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Victim Support and St John’s Ambulance to deliver immediate services to the people of Canterbury. Our people continue to work closely with the Christchurch City Council and provide support to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Local partners on the ground included the Christchurch City Council, the Canterbury District Health Board and many non-government organisations. Public sector partners included the New Zealand Police, Housing New Zealand, Te Puni Kökiri, the New Zealand Fire Service, Inland Revenue, and the Ministries of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Education and Pacific Island Affairs.

The National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan 2005 mandated the Ministry to lead the national co-ordination of the emergency welfare response.

The Government Helpline

The Ministry operated the Government Helpline for the Canterbury earthquakes. The Helpline provided the public with free telephone access to one central source of information about the earthquake, from several government departments. This left the emergency 111 telephone number free for the co-ordination of emergency services.

Within one hour of the February 2011 earthquake, we started taking calls on the Helpline. Nearly half the early calls were from people trying to locate loved ones. At the busiest times, we staffed the Helpline seven days a week, 24 hours a day. By 30 June 2011, our staff had responded to over 175,000 calls on a wide range of topics.

The lessons we learnt from the September 2010 earthquake meant our systems and people were ready when the earthquake hit on 22 February 2011.

Centres of Support

Within hours of the February 2011 earthquake, we opened welfare centres in Hagley Park and Burnside High School. That night, local staff and relief workers provided 900 people with security, food and shelter.

Within 14 days, we had set up another eight welfare centres. Staff took campervans equipped with laptops, generators and aerials to support people in more isolated communities. We also provided services in other cities to help people who had left Canterbury.

As people’s needs began to change, we worked with several agencies to set up 10 recovery assistance centres where people could obtain services and information from several service providers.

The Recovery Canterbury Hub provided a single centre to support Canterbury businesses adversely affected by the earthquakes. The Hub was staffed by business recovery co-ordinators from across government, including the Ministry. A similar hub at Halswell Junction linked businesses and jobseekers.

We distributed information online and in hard copy through Recovery Information kiosks.

Checking on vulnerable people

On day one, we quickly established that all children in the care of Child, Youth and Family were safe, and their caregivers had the support they needed.

By day two, our contact centres had begun phoning 23,200 elderly and vulnerable people in Canterbury. They successfully contacted 96 per cent of this group. A local specialist team made follow-up calls and visits to the remaining four per cent to ensure they were all safe.


We provided Civil Defence payments to help meet people’s immediate needs for emergency accommodation, food, bedding, and loss of livelihood. Inevitably some people lost their jobs or were unable to work due to the earthquakes, particularly the February 2011 earthquake. Many of these people had never needed our assistance before. Given the extraordinary circumstances, we needed to adjust some of our payment policies to help these new clients. Our policy teams worked around the clock to draft new policies, so we could pay people in need. The breadth of new policies over the year included:

  • Earthquake Support Subsidy enabled employers with fewer than 20 staff to pay their employees while they dealt with the impact of the earthquake. Over 10,000 sole traders and over 8,000 employers received $9.6 million following the September earthquake and $185 million following the February earthquake. This represents nearly 47,000 employees.
  • Earthquake Job Loss Cover provided weekly payments to employees whose employers were no longer able to operate. Over $13.5 million was paid through this policy.
  • Individual Support Payment for people who applied for assistance because they had been made redundant, or had to close their businesses following the February 2011 earthquake. These payments were paid for up to six weeks to help people adjust to their change in circumstances. Over $0.655 million was paid to 1,894 people.

We worked collaboratively with the Industry Training Federation and its members to identify recovery work opportunities, match suitable people to those jobs, and provide job-specific training. This resulted in more entry-level jobs, primarily in the trades sector. We also boosted our Straight to Work programmes in Canterbury to enable contracted providers to deliver pre-employment programmes in sectors such as construction, retail and hospitality.

Many workplaces and homes had been damaged by the earthquakes, so key business records could not be provided or verified. This was particularly a problem after the February 2011 earthquake. A legal and operational innovation allowed us to access Inland Revenue PAYE data to validate business data. This meant financial assistance could be granted safely and quickly without clients presenting their information personally.

Within hours of the February 2011 earthquake, we informed students through our StudyLink website they would continue to receive approved loans and allowances, even if their courses were not running.

Staff in other parts of the country took over the responsibility for making regular benefit payments, leaving Canterbury staff free to respond to emergency needs.

Helping to recover

We led the psycho-social response for the earthquakes. We worked closely with Relationship Services to provide counselling and support services. By 30 June 2011, Relationship Services had provided 3,680 telephone counselling sessions and 3,178 face-to-face counselling sessions. Under their umbrella agreement, they provided an additional 1,700 counselling sessions. In addition to this, 1,400 people were seen by the Relationship Services’ Māori Support Team.

Funding was also made available to The Salvation Army and Victim Support, and small grants were issued to organisations including Workplace Support, Save the Children, and Lifeline. Three million dollars was spent on trauma counselling over this period and we expect counselling services will be in high demand for some time.

Social service providers were also badly affected by the earthquake. We developed the Canterbury Earthquake Community Response Fund after the September 2010 earthquake to make one-off grants to providers needing emergency assistance. By 30 June 2011, we had paid out just over $10 million to welfare organisations (inclusive of the $3 million for trauma counselling) on 343 approved applications for grants. A further $10 million will be available in 2011/2012.

After the September 2010 earthquake, we co-located at the Christchurch Netball Centre in Hagley Park. This gave us a base where we regularly brought together over 250 representatives from community organisations to exchange information, develop joint plans, and network.

Many people experienced considerable emotional and social stress as a result of the earthquakes.

Accommodation and housing

We worked with the Department of Building and Housing to help displaced people with accommodation and other aspects of their social and financial wellbeing.

In late June 2011, when owners of red-stickered homes learnt their homes were to be demolished, we phoned 2,155 homeowners to offer assistance. In a related initiative with Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, our Canterbury staff organised 200 volunteers to visit homes in the red-zoned residential areas to ensure homeowners were aware of the Government’s announcements and what help was available.

Keeping the Ministry operating

At the height of the earthquake response, up to 250 additional Ministry staff were based in Canterbury at any one time. Following the February 2011 earthquake, only 30 per cent of our usual working space in Canterbury was available. Four sites remained closed at the end of the financial year, including two buildings inside the red zone.

Our new Government Property Management Centre of Expertiseco-ordinated short and medium-term accommodation requirements to meet our own needs as well as the needs of nine displaced government agencies and two new entities.

While the Canterbury earthquakes had tragic consequences, they have generated a new way of working across the sector. We will continue to be an active part of this innovation.

Managers and staff from other parts of the country volunteered to spend time in Canterbury to provide backup to local staff.

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