By: Daniel Homsey, NEN Director
6 months ago I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with Dan Neely, Senior Advisor of Wellington’s Office of Emergency Management. Dan was presenting his work at the Dept of Emergency Management in SF and I was eager to learn more about the work they were doing inWellington to prepare for their “Big One”. I was very impressed. As a result I added an additional day to my travels so I could link up with Dan, and larger the community resilience stakeholder network members, in advance of my attendance of the planning conference across the channel in Blenheim.
For those of you who have not ever been to Wellington, I assure you it’s worth the 12 hour flight. Similar to San Francisco in so many ways, it’s a city that is constantly in motion, and is seemingly a better place to live and raise family with each passing day. Wellington, like San Francisco, sits on the coast and is nestled inside large bay. Surrounded by large mountain ranges that look a lot like Mountain Tamalpais, the City is blessed with gorgeous vistas in every direction. In addition to being the Nation’s Capital, its also the home of Frodo Baggins and the rest of the Middle Earth empire thanks to Peter Jackson and WETA Studios. But there is more to the City’s geography than beautiful topography and Hobbiton, this place rocks literally.
Wellington sits on, and is surrounded by, some of the most active and volatile earthquake faults in the world. So volatile, in fact, that in the 1800s, they had an earthquake so powerful it created a land bridge to a large island in the middle of the bay instantly. Today that land bridge is the InternationalAirport, and that island is crawling with Orcs from WETA’s massive movie back lot (sorry for the Lord of the Rings references—I’m a big fan). While this historical activity may have created opportune land use options, it offers emergency managers like Dan Neely quite a challenging task to prepare hundreds of thousands of folks for a myriad of challenges that only present themselves to a City located next to a subduction zone (think Japan 2011) as well as a stone’s throw away from the Antarctic and its dynamic weather patterns.
Dan kindly set up a whirlwind of site visits and meetings for me over a day and half that gave me both a deep understanding / appreciation for their efforts as well as a chance to share the methods were developing in SF to advance our communities resilience in the face of any challenge.
Here is a quick overview of what I was able to squeeze in under a day and half.
A meeting with Mayor Celia Wade Brown.
Mayor Brown arrived right on time for our meeting at her office in Wellington’s beautiful City Hall. Her transport of choice, her now famous electric assisted bike which she road out on the tarmac to meet Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on a recent visit. The Mayor, like virtually all of the New Zealanders I’ve met, was exceedingly friendly and passionate about her community and its environment. During our meeting I shared with her the NEN’s Empowered Communities Program and how were leveraging the amazing network of organizations in our City to advance our neighborhoods resilience. She was clearly impressed with the approach of a “bottom up” community action planning process with the long term goal of empowering a community to sustainably steward itself perpetually. Before she left for the concert of Mozart’s music a floor below, she proposed we continue our conversation during a potential visit to San Francisco in July of the coming year.
Launching the Resilientville Exercise Building Stronger Communities, One Decision at a Time.
A key opportunity arose for this visit toWellington, when it looked like the Resilientville exercise that a team of us from the City Administrator’s office and DEM had been working on for the last year would be ready to be run in time for my visit. Dan Neely organized a group of over 20 local leaders from all aspects of the emergency management community, including the national and local government, the faith community, NGOs such as the National Red Cross and advocates for the disabled and refugee communities to name just a few. For over an hour, two groups sitting in the round inside the City’s Emergency Operations Center, went through the scenarios. In the end the exercise was given a strong thumbs up as a valuable tool to advance awareness of the power of the Whole Community Approach.
Meeting the City’s new Community Resilience Team
Recently the City created a Community Resilience Team whose mission it is to engage residents in a process of advancing the City’s over all resilience through action at the neighborhood level. The team saw many elements of the Empowered Communities Program model that they liked and wants to continue the dialogue in the coming months after I return to the US as they build out their program plan.
Meeting with Bruce Pepperell and Fred Mecoy
I had the pleasure of having separate meetings with Bruce Pepperall and Fred Mecoy over the course of the two days I was inWellington. Bruce is the Manager of Wellington Region Emergency Management Office which is a brand new division that will manage emergency services on a regional basis. Fred is the current Manager of Emergency Preparedness for the City of Wellington. Both gentlemen embrace the opportunity before them to advance the region’s resilience and note that since the Christchurch incident, the level of traction they are getting with their message in the community has increased dramatically. They both hope that public interest won’t wane too quickly so that they can hopefully move as many people as possible into a better prepared condition.
Meeting with Elizabeth McNaughton, National Recovery Manager, NZ Red Cross
Elizabeth Mc Naughton contacted me right before I left for Wellington and asked if we could get together during my visit. Elizabethwas a key leader for the Red Cross in its effort to support Christchurch residents in the hours, days, weeks and months since the earthquakes. She still visits Christchurch almost weekly and works to support communities as they move through the long recovery process. After our meeting she offered to meet me inChristchurchand give me a tour of the neighborhoods that she works with and connect me with folks to hear their experiences in person.
Meeting with a delegation of the City’s Civil Defense Volunteers
I ended my day with an after work get together with members of Wellington’s Civil Defense similar to our NERT. They were an amazing bunch of folks who remind me so much of the great NERT team members I had just spent the morning with at the citywide drill on Everett Middle School’s playground a few weeks ago. They were from all walks of life and all of them had been deployed to Christchurch to help manage welfare centers and work in the EOC. It was an honor to meet them and I know the leadership of Wellington feels blessed to have them on call.
As you can probably tell, I covered a lot of territory in a short amount of time however I felt it essential to try and connect with as many different elements of the emergency management community as possible. Is Wellington doing amazing things in the emergency preparedness / resilience space? Absolutely. Upon my return we’re going to set up follow up conference calls to learn more about their use of social media and volunteers to advance their over all ability to respond and recovery to challenges of any kind and size.
I’m off to Blenheim now to present at the planning conference. Also presenting will be members of the national and regional government that are overseeing the recovery of Christchurch. Should be a great opportunity to get thoroughly prepared for my five days in Christchurch next week