Thursday 1 March 2012

First they'd heard...

Sam Johnson critiques Christchurch City Council for impeding the Student Volunteer Army's post-quake recovery work:
Speaking at the Emergency Management Conference in Wellington yesterday, Johnson said some officials had shown a "lack of respect" towards the thousands of students he had harnessed to help quake-hit residents.
"There was this large divide between paid salary employees and the volunteers, almost like they were doing us a favour to get us a little bit of information," he said.
Apparently this is new news to City Council:
Council city environment general manager Jane Parfitt said she was surprised to learn of Johnson's comments.
"This is the first we've heard of Sam's issues ... We'll be getting in touch with Sam to discuss this."
Hmm. Here's Sam Johnson making exactly the same point in the NZ Herald last December.
Some senior city council staff and Army personnel were also "particularly 'anti' it". Mr Johnson was told he could be held personally liable if something bad happened to any of the volunteers.

"Certainly there were times when I thought, 'Why are we bothering to do this, if we just hit roadblocks the whole way through?"'
And when I'd posted on it, a pretty strong defender of Council showed up in the comments section.

I guess information disperses slowly through different parts of Council.


  1. Hallo again Eric.

    That was indeed a stupid thing for the Council officer to say.

    However, I still think you are unduly harsh on people who warned Mr Johnson of the risks he was running and proposing to expose others to. The statement that he might be held personally liable if anybody got hurt is no more than the truth. Are you saying that he should not have been warned of that possibility?

    1. I stand by what I said in the comments thread last go-round.

      In particular Council was far too reluctant to let individuals take risks on their own behalf, even when those individuals made exceptional provision for ensuring that no part of any downside cost would fall on Council. And, both before and after February, they erred in ignoring the wishes of property owners - refusing to get the red tape out of the way to let building owners make safe their buildings prior to February, and ignoring the wishes of building owners who wanted to fix and rebuild heritage buildings rather than flatten them after February.

      If all that Council did was warn Johnson of potential risks, it's hard to see fault (other than perhaps in tone of delivery). It sure doesn't sound like that was the sum total of his problem with Council though.

      Moving forward, substantial regulatory reform is needed around treatment of heritage properties, and quickly. We need to direct public funding to those properties providing real heritage amenities to make sure they can be made safe, and we need to remove barriers keeping owners of other less valuable heritage buildings from tearing them down. We'll lose heritage buildings but we'll save the ones that need saving while reducing the substantial costs accruing in case of quake.

      I really hope Treasury's working on something along those lines. Some initial sketching is here and here, but there are an awful lot of details to work out.

  2. Having worked within the CCC environment (and at ECan) I'd have to say that even prior the shaky season there was a strong culture of risk aversion (butt covering?) at council. This seemed less pronounced at ECan than CCC; I didn't think ECan were that dysfunctional, certainly not sufficiently so to warrant the enforced governance replacement.

    Of the two organisations I'd say CCC deserved more of a shake-up than ECan, especially in light of their subsequent performance post-quake. The guys at the coal face doing the hard yards have performed magnificently, pulling very long hours and working tirelessly to restore services to the city, but the stuffed suits at head office are well-deserving of the brickbats lobbed their way in my opinion.

  3. I think the logic goes something like:

    1. Civil Defence is the lead agency when a disaster is declared (gazumping police and fire and......)
    2. CD has a statutory mandate to respond to and manage recovery from a disaster
    3. All volunteers who carry out work that could be regarded as CD work are volunteers as defined by and covered by the Health and Safety in Employment Act (2003-ish amendments)
    4. The CD umbrella organisation (could be CCC, ECan or MCDEM) becomes liable for the health and saftey of those volunteers AS IF they were EMPLOYEES

    Personally I think public agencies have been complacent in not getting legal opinions to clarify this let alone advocating legislation that would speciafically cover volunteer work in emergencies and adverse events (like snowstorms). This situation was 100% foreseeable and should have been planned for long ago.

    The training I got when I was part of CD tended to be along the lines of politely turning away volunteers.