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 pandemic;
  • Infectious disease outbreaks (such as norovirus, legionnaire’s disease, 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 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.

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.

There are a few simple actions that we can all take to reduce the effect of hot weather 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).

 


Documents

Downloads

Download or order resources from the Community Health Information Centre.

Links

For more information, contact:

Hamish Sandison
Ph: +64 3 378 6759
Fax: +64 3 379 6125


Find out about Civil Defence and emergencies in your area


Launch of the National Emergency Management Agency

Beehive media release: 29th November 2019
Civil Defence Minister Hon Peeni Henare has announced the establishment of the new National Emergency Management Agency from 1st December 2019.

The National Emergency Management Agency will replace the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. It will be an autonomous departmental agency, hosted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“The National Emergency Management Agency will provide strong, national leadership, putting people and their communities at the heart of our national emergency management system. The National Emergency Management Agency will help New Zealand better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies by boosting the performance and capability of the system across all hazards and all risks,” Minister Peeni Henare said.

The Ministry’s current emergency management responsibilities will be transferred to the National Emergency Management Agency.

The decision to establish the National Emergency Management Agency is part of the Government’s response to a Ministerial review into New Zealand’s civil defence system, commissioned after the 2016 Kaikōura-Hurunui earthquake and tsunami and the 2017 Port Hills fire.


If you can plan for a festival you can plan for an emergency.


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.

When you eventually evacuate, do take your wallet, coat, bag etc. 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 Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management 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.

Find out more about being prepared for disasters at work.


Page last updated: 04/12/2019

Copyright © 2019, Community & Public Health,