Jon Mitchell, who I regard as one of my many ‘earthquake buddies’ said “my passion for disaster risk and emergency management, and the community focus [I would] bring to the subject, would be an excellent note to kick the week off with”.
I’d get away with that if you were all newly appointed local Controllers, but I know that among you are those with decades of experience, including two Chief Executives, so you should regard me as a passionate rank amateur.
This is the first opportunity to bring the residential phase to Christchurch, Canterbury and the South Island, so it is a real pleasure to welcome you to the programme.
The programme is based on some of the lessons learnt from our earthquake experience - including the independent review of the Civil Defence response to the February earthquake – a document I have read from cover to cover.
I am told that the programme is also informed by the review of the Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS), which I haven’t read, but will put on my Christmas reading list.
Given the review highlights the importance of including communities in response and recovery, providing joined-up, innovative leadership and coordination in multi-level responses and the importance of communities and their inherent resilience properties in all aspects of disaster risk and emergency management – I suspect I will find it an easy read.
Controllers have crucial roles in building, supporting and leading networks of professionals, volunteers, disparate organisations and communities in readiness and response So lifting this programme from a previous 1-day workshop, to the intensive 6-week on-line experience you have recently put so much energy into, the full-on week you are now commencing, and your own development programme that will follow will I am sure make a big difference.
I am ashamed to say that I knew as much about Civil Defence and Emergency Management - CDEM - as I did about liquefaction and lateral spread before the 4th September 2010.
My ‘earthquake buddies’ led me down the path that I now describe as my journey of discovery and Jon was the one who introduced me to the world of CDEM.
As a result of his input, when I finally decided that I had better run for Mayor, I knew that it was important that Civil Defence was one of my priorities.
I personally think Christchurch was disadvantaged by not being represented by the Mayor and Chief Executive at the regional level of CDEM when the earthquakes struck – something that was not resolved until I was elected.
I also believe that the lack of a specific obligation on elected members to perform civil defence roles, something all council employees have in their employment agreements, creates a distance between the very people who have the most direct contact with the city’s citizens. This is something I want to address.
It is vital that we see all elected members: MPs, councilors and community board members as a critical component of the communication network - to provide information to and pass on information from the community.
Each of them will have access to informal community networks that will ensure people feel connected to the response and recovery and not feel isolated or abandoned.
I was awestruck by the incredible capacity within the communities I represented at the time. I was disappointed however that these networks were not automatically linked into the official processes and that, as an MP, along with the councilors, that weren't seen as the resource I still believe we are.
I had a look at a controller’s role and what were described as the essential attributes for the position:
- Demonstrates the ability to lead and direct a demanding operational response in an environment of uncertainty for long periods of time.
- Is authoritative, decisive and ethical when leading the response.
- Demonstrates the ability to see own role in relation to the wider operational and strategic CDEM context.
- Is authoritative and credible when communicating at all times, especially with the media.
- Demonstrates ability to develop and motivate teams, including in multi-agency environments.
- Manages own wellbeing in a pressured environment
- Demonstrates ability to reflect on own performance, recognising own abilities and limitations.
- Champions CDEM when engaging with existing and potential partners and communities.
- Is committed to actively seeking solutions to overcome problems or barriers to relationships.
- Identifies and acts on strategic opportunities.
- Is committed to a culture of continuous learning.
- Is solutions-focused when problem solving.
- Demonstrates adaptability and is open to new ideas
If there is one thing we know about complex decisions, it's that no one has the monopoly on problem solving ability. A leader doesn't solve problems for others - they enable people to solve problems for themselves. How do they do that? They draw out the skills and abilities that they recognise in others, they give people responsibility and they are empathetic. For me this combines the best of the attributes - demonstrating adaptability, making it clear they don't have all the answers, being ethical, non-judgemental and trusting of others.
This course is devised to help you understand leadership in an increasingly complex world.
First and foremost, you need to get to know yourself as a leader. You need to be able to recognise the strengths that others bring to the table. And you need to be guided, but not hamstrung, by best practice.
The reason that I say that is that I became very frustrated by the use of the word unprecedented with respect to the earthquake.
I felt it became an excuse to start from scratch, to rewrite pre-existing plans writ large and create laws and entities that disrupted what would have flowed from the existing organisations and plans absent the disruption.
If there is a lesson learned that I want to share with this group of civil defence controllers it is this - look at what you have before you start anything new.
Pull everyone in that has an ongoing role in the city or town (the councils, the health board, the community groups, NGOs, government agencies, business groups, education sector) and get their take on what they could offer.
Here in Greater Christchurch we already had what could have been repurposed as a Recovery Strategy and a Land Use Recovery Plan and that was the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy – a collaborative visionary document that looked to 2041 for sustainable integrated urban development opportunities.
The DHB and the Medical Officer of Health, who has a statutory role in an emergency too, had already practiced pandemic management, in full collaboration with all the relevant agencies and under the umbrella of the CDEM Group and the member local authorities. A small outbreak of H1N1 within a vulnerable population had been successfully contained prior to the earthquakes occurring, and I believe that this went a long way to securing a successful result after the earthquake even though many of these vulnerable areas were close to three weeks without electricity, water and sewerage.
Ask the international arm of national agencies whether there are issues to be alert to - Salvation Army had the food contract, but were not set up for the scale, nor was it necessarily the right model. The prisons could have introduced a night shift in their kitchens to cook meals overnight - it would have given the inmates a real sense of purpose and involvement in what was happening.
Red Cross would have behaved differently in a developing country - setting up marquees and providing kitchens with meals. I'm not saying this because I got sick of eating barbecued sausages. People need company as well as food - that's what sustenance is all about. Setting up shared dining facilities would have brought communities together.
I could go on. There are things that we have learned from our experience that I doubt that we have fully captured yet. You are benefitting from the independent review of the Civil Defence response to the February earthquake and the CIMS review. It is critical that we learn all the lessons.
And from my personal experience, treating an advocate for people as an enemy of the state, is one the worst things to do. We need to embrace the community and all their advocates, because in the long run no-one can do it on their own.
And the great thing you will learn from this course is that you don't have to. There is a world of knowledge out there and people absolutely willing to share that with you!
But never forget the importance of the people - the local communities you are there to serve - you cannot possibly know what they know and from them will emerge leaders in their own right, who will inspire trust and confidence in others and they must be your partners in recovery from the outset.
Make the most of Mitch and the team of subject matter experts he has brought together for you to learn from this week. And take the opportunity to reflectively learn from the 18 presenters and the experience and views of each other.
Although we all hope that you don’t need to apply your pre-existing and new controller competencies in real emergencies, we all know that one day you will. It is up to you to make sure that you and your colleagues are as well prepared as possible for those times.