Civil Defence Minister Hon Peeni Henare discusses the region’s COVID-19 response with the Manawatū-Whanganui Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group

Civil Defence Minister Hon Peeni Henare visited the Manawatū-Whanganui Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MWCDEM) Group in Palmerston North this afternoon.

Horizons Regional Council chief executive and MWCDEM group controller Michael McCartney says it was great to host the minister and discuss what the region’s response to COVID-19 looked like.

“The visit also provided a good opportunity for the minister to tour the Group’s new facility, Te Ao Nui, which was opened in January this year,” says Mr McCartney.

“One thing that is often lost in an emergency response is the significant role local government plays in delivering emergency coordination through civil defence and emergency management groups such as ours.

“The MWCDEM Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) was activated between 16 March and 28 May in response to COVID-19.

“While the Ministry of Health is the lead agency for a pandemic response, the ECC provided regional coordination and support to all relevant agencies.

“For the Horizons Region this included four district health boards – MidCentral, Whanganui, Lakes and Waikato – the region’s seven city and district councils, emergency services, and government agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development.

“Over the 11 week period, the ECC’s 30 rostered and additional 30 support staff coordinated the region’s response, as well as operating a 7 day a week welfare helpline call centre.

“Across the region, welfare support included answering 6,500 needs enquiries, delivering approximately 6,000 food parcels and shopping for 855 households.

“Since May, Horizons has continued to operate their Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at a monitoring level.
“Our efforts also continue in the recovery space, with a focus on economic and social wellbeing of our communities.

“We are working with recovery managers from across the region’s seven territorial authorities, are involved in initiatives such as the Regional Economic Recovery Taskforce, and have stood up the Manawatū-Whanganui Regional Indicators website, which includes an economic impact assessment and economic dashboards for the region.

“Horizons has also been successful in securing $18.4 million in environmental enhancement shovel ready projects.”

Today’s visit by Minister Henare included a tour of the ECC, which is based in Te Ao Nui, Palmerston North’s only IL4 office building.

The building has been constructed to meet the most stringent seismic performance measures and NABERS New Zealand 4 energy efficient rating. The second floor has the capacity to exist off the grid, including its own supply of drinking water, wastewater storage, and power to support Horizons Regional Council and Palmerston North City Council’s civil defence operations.

“Te Ao Nui was officially opened at the end of January, little did we know at the time just how quickly the building would be utilised to its full capacity,” says Mr McCartney.

“Previously the MWCDEM Group and Horizons Emergency Operations and Coordination Centres have been operating from Horizons’ Regional House in Victoria Ave. Palmerston North’s emergency management office has been operating out of the basement of the City Council’s building in The Square.

“The need to physically distance while delivering our response to COVID-19 could not have been done as effectively in these previous locations.

“Another benefit of the City’s EOC and the Group’s ECC working side by side is that the arrangement aligns well with the desired outcomes of central government’s proposed emergency management systems reform following the 2017 Ministerial Review into Better Responses to Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies.”