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Tsunami scenario puts emergency response plans to the test

Trevor Ecclestone Waikato DHB

Photo: Trevor Ecclestone, manager of Emergency Management at Waikato District Health Board is working with the DHB’s services to test out their response plans in the event of a tsunami.

New Zealand has a long coastline and many of us live near the sea or have friends and family in coastal settlements, or we spend time at the seaside and out on the water. But if the ocean turns on us, are we prepared?

A Civil Defence exercise based on a tsunami scenario is underway across New Zealand, and Waikato DHB is actively involved. Exercise Tangaroa (named after the Māori word for the energy and life force of the sea) is a prompt for all of us to have a personal plan, a workplace plan and – for an organisation like Waikato DHB – a wider response and recovery plan in place.

Waikato DHB’s emergency management lead Trevor Eccleston says the impacts of a tsunami go well beyond the coastal area directly affected.

“An inland city like Hamilton would need to step up if a tsunami hit the upper North Island,” he says. “If the Auckland, Waikato or Bay Of Plenty coastline was badly affected, Hamilton would likely be a key city in the emergency response.”

Exercise Tangaroa black iconHealth and hospital services here would be a focus for medical response – emergency medical teams going out to the areas affected, and people coming here for treatment.

Not only that, but Hamilton and other inland towns would receive an influx of people moving away from the affected coast needing accommodation and support.

There are other things Waikato DHB services need to plan and prepare for – some staff will have family directly affected or will be unable to get to work, the usual supply chain for medical supplies might be broken or delayed, and there may be public health issues like contaminated water supplies and outbreaks of illness to deal with.

“If a tsunami happened along the Waikato coastline, there would be direct impacts on Waikato DHB’s community bases, primary health (medical centre/GP) services, and aged care facilities in those locations too,” he says.

“If a tsunami hit the coast near Thames, Thames Hospital would be functional but difficult to access, so this scenario is a really useful prompt to look at the effects that would have.”

“It’s about everyone being prepared so that if the worst happens, we can immediately swing into action in an effective and coordinated way.”

Scenarios like Exercise Tangaroa are a way of making sure emergency response plans are in place and can provide a platform for dealing with different situations. During the exercise, Waikato DHB services will review their response plans and report back to Ecclestone on what position they would be in after a tsunami, what level of service they could offer, how many bed spaces they could make available, what support they might need, and so on.

There will be two national “table top” exercise days where representatives of many major organisations will get together under the umbrella of Civil Defence and Emergency Management to work through how prepared they are and what is needed for a longer term recovery phase from a national perspective.

Ecclestone is also working with local health providers and public health organisations (PHOs) as well as local civil defence. Exercise Tangaroa runs until mid September.

Four tips for everyone

Exercise Tangaroa icon

  1. Know what the physical signs and alerts are for a possible tsunami.
  2. If you are at the coast, make it a habit to check where higher or safer ground is, and how you would get there quickly.
  3. Make sure your emergency supply kit is stocked and handy at home, ready for any emergency.
  4. If you live, stay or work near the coast, have a simple plan for what you/your family/your business would do in the event of a tsunami that seriously disrupted services and potentially caused damage to the area. Talk to others involved in the plan so you are all “on the same page”.

Get familiar with tsunami and what to do by reading this brochure from New Zealand Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

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Participants at the mass casualty simulation exercise , Waikato Hospital late 2017.
Simulation exercise prepares Waikato DHB for real civil emergencies