Planning for public health issues in emergencies

Community and Public Health has an obligation to our community, Te Whatu Ora and 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.

Preparing for Public Health Emergencies

A successful response is the result of a lot of planning and the Protection Team at Community and Public Health 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 the National Emergency Management Agency (formerly known as Civil Defence), councils and the emergency services such as 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.

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

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

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.

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

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: 21/11/2023

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