Official Information Request - 16 April 2020


Sent: Wednesday, 13 May 2020 4:31 pm
Subject: LGOIMA request – operation of the Emergency Operations Centre during the Covid-19 pandemic response
Importance: High

I refer to your email of 16 April 2020 regarding Council's operation of the Civil Defence Emergency Operations Centre during the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Outlined below are responses to your specific questions on the basis of our best information in hand.

As an introduction to these responses it is important to outline the overall statutory context of the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act. I note that you have had some experience in smaller emergency responses and therefore I would expect that the broader statutory framework that informs the Council's CDEM activation would not be unfamiliar to you.

The fundamental concept of 'Civil Defence' is based on reinforcing  modern emergency services and was developed to ensure that in a time of emergency the communities affected can be supported through multiagency integration, coordination and collaboration. Whether the crisis is a flood or fire or earthquake, it requires organised response with whatever resources were at hand.  ​

In New Zealand  the structure of Civil Defence is based upon a combination of statutes, government policies and plans.  In particular the Civil Defence Act 2002, the State Sector Act 1988, the New Zealand National Security System (administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) and the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan.  Another key document in respect of the operating principles and organisational structure for an emergency response is the New Zealand Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS).

The Civil Defence Act requires every territorial authority in New Zealand to build and maintain internal capability to respond to and to coordinate collaboration from different agencies in an emergency.  Those statutory requirements demand the appointment of suitably qualified and experienced people to perform the statutory roles of 'Controller' and 'Recovery Manager'; and to build an internal resource capability to mobilise and operate for extended periods a local Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). The EOC must be staffed by appropriately trained (prescribed attainment of skills) staff. Because Emergency Operations Centres must be able to operate on extended periods the required trained staff are rostered on shifts of at least 2 or 3 in any 24 hour period. This necessitates staff requirements to deploy and operate these shifts.

The structure for an EOC is outlined in detail in the CIMS requirements and this is embedded into the CDEM Act. A fully activate centre must include the following functions:

  • Controller
  • Recovery Manager
  • Response Manager
  • Risk Manager
  • Iwi Liaison
  • Intelligence Manager
  • Planning Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Logistics Manager
  • Welfare Manager and
  • Public Information Manager

Those 11 positions form the core structure of the 'Incident Management Team'.  Under those positions/functions there are other personnel depending on the scale of the event that they are required to coordinate response to.

The CIMS handbook also outlines another 32 sub-functions that should be considered to support each of the core functions in the CIMS Structure.  Although it is expected that every Controller will use the CIMS framework when establishing an EOC, it is also accepted that every emergency is different and CIMS principles allow for a Controller to exercise discretion when making decisions about the size and shape of the EOC structure when responding to a particular emergency.

In respect of the current State of National Emergency, Civil Defence Controllers are being asked to deal with a situation that is unprecedented in New Zealand history.  This is the first time that a State of National Emergency has affected every community in New Zealand and involved a requirement for every EOC in New Zealand to be activated, resourced and continuously operated. 

The declaration of the National Emergency assigns the Ministry of Health as the lead agency but the scope and scale of the emergency is far beyond the capability and capacity of any single agency and for that reason Civil Defence operations centres have been mobilised to provide support and coordination to both government and community agencies who are assisting the response to this event.

The Rotorua Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) forms part of that national network of support to the Ministry of Health. The National Crisis Management Centre has been activated and instructed the activation of all Regional Coordination Centres and all Local EOCs. This is the legislated chain of command in Civil Defence.

The Rotorua EOC is resourced from the Council's regular employees who have undergone the required training and have attained the required certifications. Their involvement in the operations of the EOC is over and above their normal work duties. A response to an emergency means that other work activities are re-prioritised and the emergency takes the highest priority.

The majority of the work undertaken by the Rotorua EOC falls under three broad categories:

  1. Working with other relevant agencies to coordinate the provision of welfare support to vulnerable people in our community – in particular elderly people. While individual agencies have their own tasks the EOC coordinates their activities and reports to the regional and the national emergency centres. This helps the creation of a national database for the event.
  2. Providing logistical support to other emergency agencies responding to this event.  For example, Civil Defence staff have been:
    • supporting the police with the on-site education phase of the COVID-19 emergency restrictions and providing intelligence about breaches to the lockdowns.
    • providing the Lakes DHB with logistical support in respect of the urgent deliveries of PPE to health professionals across the District
    • assisting MBIE and Work-Safe by providing businesses with guidance and advice on their obligations under the COVID-19 restrictions​
  3. Ensuring that contingency planning is readily available for an escalated emergency or for a concurrent and parallel event such as flooding etc.

Council staff and EOC personnel have also been involved with the 'whole of government' response to this emergency. For example, there was a significant reduction in telephone calls to Council shortly after the State of Emergency being declared.  However, at that same time the Ministry of Social Development sought assistance from other agencies to assist with an urgent need to contact all vulnerable, elderly people in our community and enquire as to their general well-being and ensure they understood what they needed to do to keep themselves safe.  The Manager of the Council Customer Solutions team took the initiative to contact the Ministry of Social Development and offer the support of her team to assist with that task.  Rotorua Lakes Council was the first organisation in New Zealand to make that offer of support.  Over a three week period Council staff made approximately 3,000 'reassurance' calls to vulnerable people throughout New Zealand. ​

As you have noted in your correspondence, at the initial stages of the emergency just under 50 staff were called on and assigned stand-by roles to the Rotorua Civil Defence EOC.  Those staff were identified by the total roster of over 90 available to the EOC and structured in a way to operate on a 24/7 basis.

At that time most of those initial rostered staff were involved in the delivery of Welfare support services and the gathering of intelligence in order to inform the regional and national contingency planning process.  The intelligence phase was particularly challenging due to both the novelty of the situation (no one had dealt with this before and there were a great deal of 'unknowns), and the uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on all elements of society.

Prudence and the experience of other countries required Police, medical professionals and local councils to consider and plan for contingencies – some of which were very grave.  Fortunately New Zealand has to this point avoided many of the worst manifestations of this pandemic that have been experienced in other countries, particularly in respect of the number of fatalities and the impact on both health professionals and the health system overall.  That outcome did not occur by accident and was in part the result of work that is not visible to the general public.

Notwithstanding the above, I can assure you that the staffing of the EOC is a matter of constant review and the Controller and his Incident Management Team were constantly reviewing the staffing of the Rotorua EOC with particular consideration being given to business need and capability requirements.

You have sought information about costs related to this event. We are not currently in a position to provide you with a full breakdown of all of the costs associated with welfare support for the following reasons:

  • The Rotorua EOC is acting in a coordination function and much of the broader cost of provision of goods and services is being met by a number of agencies; with Council's primary role being in the assessment of need, the coordination of delivery and reporting.
  • Rotorua Civil Defence is only one agency of many that is engaged in the delivery of welfare support services.  Other organisations playing a significant role in that regard include the Ministry of Social Development, The Salvation Army and the Te Arawa COVID-19 hub.  There are also numerous other agencies and individuals who have been working with Civil Defence to provide welfare support to others in their community.

The identification of communities' needs, the coordination of the delivery of support services and the follow up confirmations and national reporting is a significant challenge, particularly given the number of agencies involved.  Civil Defence, Rotorua Lakes Council and other agencies are very aware of the potential for duplication of effort and as a result one of the primary tasks of the EOC team is to link with other agencies and perform a coordination role in respect of service delivery.

You have the right to seek an investigation and review by the Ombudsman of this decision. Complaints can be sent by email to, by fax to (04) 471 2254, or by post to The Ombudsman, PO Box 10152, Wellington 6143.

Publication of responses to LGOIMA requests

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​Jean-Paul Gaston     Manahautū Rautaki | Group Manager, Strategy / Privacy Officer
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Page reviewed: 14 May 2020 9:51am