Planning for public health issues in emergencies

Te Mana Ora | Community and Public Health has an obligation to our community, the National Public Health Service, Health New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora and Manatu Hauora | Ministry of Health to provide a robust public health response to all emergencies, including:

  • Influenza or other respiratory disease pandemics;
  • Infectious disease outbreaks (such as Norovirus, Legionnaire’s disease or Cryptosporidium);
  • Natural disasters (including flooding, fires, 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. Staff at Te Mana Ora are focused on ensuring that:

  • Safe drinking water is available;
  • Environmental hazards – such as air pollution – are decreased to safe levels;
  • People have 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.

Preparing for Public Health Emergencies

A successful response is the result of a lot of planning and the staff at Te Mana Ora | Community and Public Health need to prepare for all types of emergencies by:

  • participating in public health related emergency exercises;
  • forming strong links with the National Emergency Management Agency (formerly known as Civil Defence), councils and emergency services such as Hato Hone St John, Fire and Emergency NZ and the NZ Police; and
  • distributing public health messages during emergencies, including infectious disease outbreaks.

Community and Public Health has specific responsibilities to reduce the public health risk resulting from a respiratory disease pandemic (such as influenza or COVID). The goal is to reduce the spread of the illness within our communities and the South Island – Te Waipounamu. This includes encouraging people to get available vaccines – such as seasonal influenza jabs and COVID-19 boosters.

The Te Waipounamu Emergency Readiness Advisor for the National Public Health Service is based at Te Mana Ora, and is responsible for:

  • reviewing emergency response plans regularly;
  • consulting with advisors from Health New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora and Manatu Hauora | Ministry of Health;
  • assisting with training staff for emergency responses; and
  • working with other local and regional emergency planners.

Videos on preparing for emergencies available from Ministry for Ethnic Communities

Emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. It’s important that you and your family know what to do and have a plan in place for when they happen.

The Ministry for Ethnic Communities worked with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to create a series of videos to help communities understand how to prepare for different disasters and emergencies, what to do when they happen, and what to do after they occur.

Mervin Singham is Chief Executive of the Ministry for Ethnic Communities and highlights the importance of these videos:

“This series of videos help communities understand the natural hazards we have in Aotearoa New Zealand and what they can do to get ready and respond to them.

“The communities we serve come from diverse backgrounds and may not have experienced some of these natural disasters in their countries of origin. It is important to ensure that they are equipped with adequate information to respond effectively to such emergencies.

The videos cover:

  1. How to make an emergency plan;
  2. What you will need in an emergency;
  3. What to do in an earthquake;
  4. What to do in a tsunami;
  5. What to do in a flood;
  6. What to do in a storm;
  7. What to do in a fire; and
  8. What to do during volcanic activity.

Kauraka e matukū, kia takatū: Don’t be scared, be prepared

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has launched an emergency preparedness campaign in partnership with the Alpine Fault 8 (AF8) programme.

They are driving home the message of emergency preparedness by tapping into mātauranga Māori, Kai Tahu creation stories and weaving them with scientific knowledge.

It’s highly likely that a magnitude 8 Alpine Fault earthquake will happen within the next 50 years and would cause widespread damage and disruption across Te Waipounamu.

This campaign is part of a broader resilience-building mahi that Ngai Tahu are undertaking as an iwi.

Check out the video and resources to help you take the critical steps to prepare your whare and protect your whānau in a emergency (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu).

Half of Kai Tahu marae already have solar panels to enhance their resilience. Emergency pods equipped with resources to support communities are also being installed with support from Te Puni Kōkiri.

Responding to Public Health Emergencies

Te Mana Ora | Community and Public Health contributes a valuable public health perspective during local and regional emergency events and works closely with the many agencies involved. Our staff also assist other parts of the National Public Health Service to respond to emergencies in their areas (such as Cyclone Gabrielle in 2023).

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 special emergency powers to close schools and inspect ships or planes – to protect the community’s health.

The National Public Health Service also has a role to play in helping communities mentally and physically recover from emergency events.

Planning to deal with severe weather events

Climate change is causing average temperatures to rise across the world, so New Zealand can expect extreme weather and natural hazard events (such as storms, flooding, fires and heatwaves) to occur more often or have greater impacts on public health. Examples include:

  • Flooding causing damage to housing – leading to housing insecurity or causing dampness and mould.
  • Storms causing damage to roading, electricity or other infrastructure – reducing access to essential services.
  • Periods of hot weather (heatwaves) – leading to heat related illness.

The National Public Health Service is responsible for protecting the health and safety of the community (and vulnerable groups within the community) by ensuring public health issues are identified and addressed in decisions on climate change mitigation and adaptation.




For more information, contact:

Hamish Sandison
Ph: +64 3 378 6759

Find out about Civil Defence and emergencies in your area

Resources to help you get prepared

If you can plan for a road trip, you can plan for an emergency.

Get prepared for your pets and other animals

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.

Remember to check your emergency 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.

Make a plan for your pets. Source: National Emergency Management Agency.

Page last updated: 16/07/2024

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