Planning for public health issues in emergencies

Community and Public Health has an obligation to our community and to the Ministry of Health to provide a robust public health response to all emergencies, including:

  • An influenza or respiratory disease pandemic;
  • Infectious disease outbreaks (such as Norovirus, Legionnaire’s disease or Cryptosporidium);
  • Natural disasters (including flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis); and
  • Chemical spills and hazardous substance incidents.

All these events can have serious impact on the health of the community, and affect water, power and waste systems and the environment. Community and Public Health is focused on ensuring that:

  • Safe drinking water is available;
  • Environmental hazards are decreased to safe levels (such as air pollution);
  • People are given information on how to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy before, during and after an emergency; and
  • The risk of infectious disease is minimised.

Everyone should always be prepared for emergencies by having an emergency survival kit. Important items include food and water to last at least 3 days, a way to heat water or food if there is no power, a first aid kit, and any other essentials like medications or food for pets. You should also have a list of important phone numbers (including neighbours, doctor, and family members).

In an emergency: Stay safe. Stay informed.

Government launches first nationwide tsunami evacuation map

Beehive media release: 21st July 2022

The Government has taken a further important step in improving Kiwis’ preparedness in the event of a tsunami with the launch of Aotearoa’s first nationwide tsunami evacuation map, says Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty.

Own your zone. Source: National Emergency Management Agency.“All of New Zealand’s coastline is at risk of tsunami which means most of us live, work, or play in areas under threat,” Kieran McAnulty said.

“It’s important all Kiwis have a plan to keep their whānau safe if a tsunami happens. The new national tsunami evacuation map makes it easy for people to find out where to get to safety.

“The map enables you to enter your address to find out if you’re in a tsunami evacuation zone and where to go to stay safe, and directs you to in-depth local evacuation information. It makes it easier for people to know where their closest safe ground is, and to have a plan to get there.”

“This is the first time we’ve had a single map for the whole country, and is the latest of a series of milestones to strengthen Aotearoa’s tsunami safety arrangements.”

The map has been developed by the National Emergency Management Agency in close partnership with the 16 regional Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups.

“You shouldn’t wait until an emergency to check whether you’re in a tsunami evacuation zone. There is no better time than now to make sure you’re prepared and your plan is up to date to keep you and your whānau safe,” Kieran McAnulty said.

Note: Tsunami warnings will not be displayed on this national map.

Preparing for Public Health Emergencies

A successful response is the result of a lot of planning and the Protection Team prepare for all types of emergencies by:

  • reviewing emergency response plans regularly including the Influenza Pandemic Plan;
  • training staff for emergency situations;
  • participating in public health related emergency exercises;
  • consulting with advisors from the Ministry of Health;
  • forming strong links with Civil Defence, councils and the emergency services (St John, Fire and Emergency NZ and the NZ Police);
  • working with other local and regional health emergency planners; and
  • distributing public health messages during emergencies, including infectious disease outbreaks.

Civil Defence campaign warns Kiwis to “Get The Flood Out!

National Emergency Management Agency media release: 9th June 2022

Get The Flood Out. Source: National Emergency Management Agency.A new Civil Defence campaign promoting flood safety will urge Kiwis to Get The Flood Out as winter weather ramps up.

The National Emergency Management Agency has launched the Get The Flood Out campaign to warn people about the dangers of flood water.

The campaign features an exuberant voiceover from iconic Kiwi broadcaster Dougal Stevenson.

“Floods are Aotearoa’s number one hazard in terms of frequency and damage, and they can also be very dangerous” Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Gary Knowles says.

“Flood water can contain sewage, toxic chemicals and hidden debris. It can drown you or pick up your vehicle with you in it.”

Mr Knowles said the campaign also warned people not to let kids play in flood water.

“While it may seem like fun after a big dumping of rain, flood water is never safe for kids to play in.”

Get The Flood Out has been developed in tandem with a second “Flood Waters Are Deep Trouble” campaign. This second campaign has a more serious tone and will be rolled out when severe weather is forecast – such as red weather warnings.

Responding to Public Health Emergencies

Community and Public Health contributes a valuable public health perspective during emergency events and works closely with the many agencies involved.

The level of the response depends on the event. This ranges from providing health advice for the public through to our Medical Officers of Health using their authority to close schools and inspect ships or planes – to protect the community’s health.

Planning for Hot Weather and Heatwaves

Climate change is causing average temperatures to rise across the world, so New Zealand can expect hotter days in summer. We look forward to warm weather, but it can become uncomfortable – and dangerously hot for some – if temperatures get too high. There is strong evidence to show that extreme heat and heatwaves have negative impacts on health.

Extreme heat can cause serious health problems for anyone, but some people are especially vulnerable such as:

  • people over 65 years of age – particularly those living on their own;
  • babies and children under 4 years of age;
  • those with pre-existing medical conditions (like heart problems, asthma and respiratory illness, kidney disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and severe mental health illness);
  • pregnant women;
  • people on certain prescribed medications;
  • people undertaking outdoor activities or jobs that involve a high level of physical exertion; and
  • people attending outdoor public events.

New Zealand doesn’t have an early warning heatwave alert system unlike most other countries. MetService is trialling a pilot heat wave alert scheme with Community and Public Health this summer. This will enable us to put out information in advance of forecast hot weather about simple actions to to reduce its effect on our health. This includes staying cool by keeping out of the heat, avoiding physical activity, adjusting work practices and drinking plenty of water.

Planning for an Influenza Pandemic

Community and Public Health has specific responsibilities to reduce the public health risk resulting from a pandemic of influenza, like any other emergency event. The goal of our response is to reduce the spread of the illness of a future influenza pandemic in the Canterbury, South Canterbury and West Coast regions. As part of the Ministry of Health’s plan, Community and Public Health staff have the following specific functions depending on the stage of the pandemic:

  • Plan to reduce the health, social and economic impacts (Plan For It);
  • Work at ports and airports to prevent or delay the arrival of pandemic influenza into NZ (Keep It Out);
  • Control or halt the spread of the infection within the population (Stamp It Out);
  • Reduce the impact of pandemic influenza on the population (Manage It); or
  • Assist in the process of recovering from the pandemic back to “business as usual” (Recover From It).





For more information, contact:

Hamish Sandison
Ph: +64 3 378 6759

Find out about Civil Defence and emergencies in your area

What can't you live without? Source: National Emergency Management Agency.

Get prepared for your pets

You need to include your pets, domestic animals or livestock in your emergency plan.

Your pets need food, water and shelter at the very least – just like you and your family.

Consider having two emergency kits – one for at home and a ‘go kit’ to take if you have to leave quickly. Make sure that everyone in your house knows where the kits are. You might even let a neighbour know – just in case you are not able to get home.

Remember to check your pet kit regularly for anything that needs adding or changing. Keep an eye on expiry dates – especially for any medication. Change the water every six months to keep it fresh.

What to do when an earthquake happens at work

It is frightening to stay in a building immediately after an earthquake but it is much safer than immediately going outside.

It is not like a fire; you do not have to evacuate a building straight away unless it is showing obvious signs of distress.

Take your wallet, coat, bag etc when you eventually evacuate. You are more vulnerable if you leave those things behind. Take your getaway kit or “go bag” if you have one.

A fire evacuation assembly area might not be appropriate after a quake. Large open areas with no tall buildings, power lines or other hazards immediately adjacent are best. It is often better to remain in your building until a safest route has been found.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) suggests workplaces develop a plan for what to do immediately after a major earthquake, assuming serious damage. This plan can be scaled back if there is a smaller earthquake.

Page last updated: 22/07/2022

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