Part 2: Being better prepared

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions - follow-up report.

In this Part, we discuss what the Ministry has done to improve:

Our recommendations about being better prepared

In our 2013 report, we made four recommendations about being better prepared. We recommended that the Ministry:

  • make all biosecurity planning more realistic by ensuring that plans reflect likely constraints on resources and reflect more accurately the capacity available to deliver them;
  • complete response plans for high-risk organisms, including foot and mouth disease, and review them at regular intervals to provide assurance that they are fit for purpose;
  • prepare better for a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease by:
    • building on Exercise Taurus 2012 and developing and delivering a regular programme of foot and mouth disease testing and simulation;
    • completing an early simulation to test the Animal Health Laboratory's foot and mouth disease readiness, which is a potential bottleneck but remains largely untested;
    • reducing the risk of a breakdown in the enhanced bio-containment laboratory by replacing it at the earliest possible date;
    • creating a plan to undertake carcass disposal across a range of outbreak sizes; and
    • creating a plan of how the vaccine could be used, demonstrating that it is practical to do so, and the potential value for money that would be provided from investing in the vaccine; and
  • improve its:
    • staff capability by preparing a plan to deliver better response experience, training, and induction;
    • workforce planning so that it has the appropriate number of staff, with the required skills; and
    • creation, use, and storage of information by preparing a formal approach to information governance.

Summary of our findings

The Ministry is better prepared to deal with biosecurity incursions. Although the Ministry needs to do further work to embed some of the improvements, it has laid the groundwork. It has worked sensibly, making changes progressively. It is too soon to assess the overall effect of these changes. However, from what we observed in our case studies, the improvements have enabled effective responses.

The Ministry has created a Single Scalable Response Model that all responses (biosecurity, food, adverse events, or trade) will be delivered to. This means that the same response framework and structures are used regardless of the size of the response. Having a model that streamlines many processes and allows for a consistent approach provides a solid foundation to be able to deliver responses consistently.

The Ministry's readiness for an outbreak of foot and mouth disease has improved a lot since our last report. Because of the scale of the foot and mouth disease project the Ministry has started, there is still work to do. This work remains a focus for the Ministry.

Being ready for biosecurity incursions

The Ministry has made good progress improving its readiness. It continues to embed improvements to allow it to better prepare for and respond to biosecurity incursions.

The Ministry has prepared and adopted a generic response model, the Single Scalable Response Model. This model allows it to respond to all incursions in the same way. The Single Scalable Response Model is a version of the Co-ordinated Incident Management System used throughout government that has been customised for the Ministry's needs.

Having a generic response model makes sense from a planning perspective. It is not practical to have a response plan for every possible incursion, because there are countless possibilities. Therefore, having a generic framework to respond to any incursion is efficient.

After restructuring in 2012, the Ministry aligned its directorates in 2014 to consolidate the Ministry's core functions. As part of the alignment, an Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate was formed.

The Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate is responsible for preparing and planning, with a focus on capacity building and contingency planning. Creating the Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate has enabled the Ministry's "business-as-usual" readiness work to continue during responses because the Ministry has dedicated more resources to readiness.

As part of the alignment, the Ministry formed governance boards to correspond with the new branch structures. The purpose of these boards is to drive "whole of system" decision-making and support collaboration throughout the Ministry.

The Biosecurity Board is responsible for governing, leading, overseeing, and co-ordinating the biosecurity system. The board is made up of two deputy directors-general and other directors from throughout the Ministry. It receives, and makes decisions about, biosecurity strategies, plans, priorities, and projects. Its aim is to improve co-ordination throughout the biosecurity system.

The Biosecurity Board is in its infancy. Early improvements by the board include creating key performance indicators and new performance measures that cover the entire biosecurity system.

The Ministry has created and prioritised a detailed work programme of biosecurity readiness. It has set up a dedicated group4 to oversee the successful completion of the readiness work programme. It is too soon to assess the effect the board has had. However, its existence is evidence that the Ministry continues to focus on readiness.

In our view, by using Government Industry Agreements and the National Biosecurity Capability Network, and through an improved relationship with its main response partner, AsureQuality, the Ministry is collaborating more effectively with industry response partners. We saw evidence of this when we looked at the response to the 2015 fruit fly incursion.

The Ministry told us that it is also working more effectively with government partners through the Official Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination forum.

Improving readiness

The Ministry has completed response plans for some high-risk organisms and continues to increase the number of completed response plans.

Since our last audit, the Ministry has increased the number of response plans and created annual targets for increasing the number of plans. In 2013/14, the Ministry created 12 new response plans for high-risk organisms.

The new performance measures (see Part 4) require the Ministry to publicly report its progress in putting the new measures into effect. This shows the Ministry's commitment to improving readiness generally.

The Ministry is putting in place a way of systematically ensuring that it reviews response plans regularly, which will include a traffic light status system to ensure that the plans are regularly reviewed. It is also working on a repository for the plans.

We observed a culture of continuous improvement at the Ministry. For example, the Ministry was feeding lessons it learned from responses back into the response plans.

The response to the 2015 fruit fly incursion is a good example of the Ministry's readiness and continuous improvement in action. The Ministry had a response plan prepared for a fruit fly incursion. In recent years, the Ministry and AsureQuality have responded to several fruit fly incursions. The Ministry updated its response plan to include the lessons learned from the earlier responses. In our view, this contributed to the effectiveness of the 2015 response.

Better preparedness for foot and mouth disease

Through the foot and mouth disease preparedness programme, the Ministry is investing to ensure that the country is better prepared for a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The Ministry has identified interim measures that would allow it to respond to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the short term. It continues to prioritise the work it needs to do to ensure that New Zealand is well prepared.

The Ministry's preparedness programme for foot and mouth disease includes projects that specifically address our 2013 recommendations. The programme includes a structured programme of testing and simulation, improving the Animal Health Laboratory's readiness, replacing the bio-containment laboratory, and preparing plans for carcass disposal and vaccination.

The Ministry continues to:

  • work on the plans for testing how to communicate about an outbreak of foot and mouth disease and preparing specific policies; and
  • consult with industry and stakeholders about the operational planning aspects of its response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It is working on including animal sector partners in the Government Industry Agreements.

Collaborating with others

A Trans-Tasman Action Plan commits New Zealand and Australia to working collaboratively when preparing for an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The Australia and New Zealand Consultative Group on Biosecurity Co-operation and the Nepal foot and mouth disease training programme are examples of the Trans-Tasman Action Plan in effect.

The many benefits of this collaboration include:

  • taking part in each other's testing and simulation exercises − New Zealand veterinarians took part in foot and mouth disease training in Nepal;
  • sharing information about readiness work; and
  • working collaboratively to prepare and refine animal disease models.

Structured programme of testing and simulation

The Ministry has prepared a structured programme of testing and simulation that is evolving to cover the different aspects of a response to foot and mouth disease.

As part of the programme, the Ministry has set up a project that deals specifically with training exercises. As part of this project, the Ministry:

  • appointed an Exercise Programme Manager;
  • prepared an exercise programme;
  • completed exercises;
  • chose staff to attend conferences and train in international good practice;
  • reviews its exercises and surveys participants; and
  • scheduled an exercise for December 2015 that will include participants from government and industry.

Improving the Animal Health Laboratory's readiness

In June 2013, the Ministry prepared the Animal Health Laboratory Foot-and-Mouth Disease Preparedness Plan (the preparedness plan) to better understand and improve the laboratory's readiness and capabilities.

In 2014, the Ministry asked external consultants to review the preparedness plan and to simulate the laboratory's processes and resources to model its capacity. In 2015, the Ministry reviewed and updated the preparedness plan.

The laboratory's capacity would be a bottleneck during a medium-to-large outbreak of foot and mouth disease. This will remain so until it is replaced with the new laboratory.

The Ministry's Animal Health Laboratory Foot-and-Mouth Disease Response Preparedness and Action Plan (the action plan) identifies the actions needed to complete the preparedness plan (including some resourcing matters). The action plan also identifies expected bottlenecks to be resolved before a foot and mouth disease response.

The Ministry has developed a register of all of the actions identified in the action plan. The register includes target dates for high priority actions. A project team has been formed from existing resources, and progress towards lower priority actions will be followed up when other investigation and response work allows.

The project team is required to update its progress every month. However, progress depends on what response work the team has at the time. Limited resources and a fluctuating work load make fixing a schedule for this work difficult.

The Ministry has taken steps to follow the action plan. The Ministry has identified resources, such as extra laboratory staff and equipment, it can draw on if and when extra short-term capacity is needed.

Additional trained laboratory staff will be required in an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The Ministry has identified potential sources of laboratory staff in the Ministry and in external agencies in New Zealand and overseas.

The Ministry is researching new technologies that will make a large response more efficient. It is looking to buy high-throughput equipment using its annual capital budget. Animal Health Laboratory staff have visited two high-throughput laboratories to learn about processes and technology for testing large numbers of samples.

To improve its overall readiness, the Animal Health Laboratory has carried out work such as proficiency testing.5

Work is under way to overhaul the Laboratory Information Management System. This is an information management system to improve laboratory reporting and data management.

Replacing the bio-containment laboratory

In June 2015, the Government agreed to spend $87.2 million on a new bio-containment laboratory to replace the current laboratory in Wallaceville. The new laboratory will be the most advanced facility of its kind in the country. It is expected to be operational in 2018.

In our 2013 report, we identified the current laboratory as a bottleneck during an emergency response. The laboratory has frequent operational failures and is not fit for purpose. We recommended that it be replaced at the earliest possible date to reduce the risk of a breakdown.

In its business case to Cabinet, the Ministry stated:

The existing laboratory is an ageing, inadequate and increasingly obsolete building with systems that are becoming less reliable and more expensive to maintain. International standards and regulations for these laboratories have also evolved since it was built and the facility would not meet current standards or future requirements if it were constructed today. This is putting New Zealand's public health, biosecurity capability and trade at risk and needs to change.

Because diseases can spread quickly, the Ministry needs to be able to respond quickly. The Ministry says that "having a high-containment laboratory is about being prepared". It also says that:

Exotic and high impact diseases are investigated frequently, so laboratory testing for these diseases occurs almost every day. Safely and rapidly confirming the absence or presence of that disease with sophisticated diagnostic tests will help us clearly identify what is present and if a high risk disease is identified, confirm where the infection is, control the spread of the disease, and protect agriculture and human health.6

Plans for disposing of carcasses

The Ministry has made good progress creating plans for disposing of carcasses during an emergency response to foot and mouth disease. It is preparing for carcass disposal during the first phase of a response regardless of the size of the outbreak.

A plan has been prepared for disposing of carcasses during the first days to weeks of any outbreak. This plan was made with input from industry and regional council colleagues and is considered to be the primary plan.

For a larger and longer-term response, the primary plan would need to be adapted to suit the individual characteristics of the response. This would need to be done during the response because these plans depend on the individual characteristics of the outbreak, such as the location of the outbreak, the time of year, and the number of animals involved.

The Ministry continues to work with stakeholders to ensure that the primary plan for carcass disposal could be rapidly implemented in any region in the country.

Progress includes preparing a process for deciding which disposal method is most suitable for any given infected property, presenting all the factors that need to be considered when making those decisions, and agreeing which agencies would make those decisions.

Creating the primary plan is complex and requires the Ministry to work with a large number of other agencies and organisations. The Ministry has had some problems collecting the data it needs to inform decisions about carcass disposal. For example, national data sets are lacking for water table heights and the boundaries of land of Maori significance (including sacred sites), and there are resource management matters arising from Resource Management Act constraints.

The Ministry told us that it expects to complete the current phase of carcass disposal planning by December 2016. After that, the plan will need to be regularly reviewed against the national requirements, international best practice guidelines, and opportunities emerging from new technologies.

Preparing plans for vaccination

The Ministry has worked out when it is economically viable to use a vaccine during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It continues to work with industry and stakeholders on the operational planning aspects of deploying the vaccine.

The Ministry has put much work into preparing an agreed vaccination policy, including getting input from the Ministry's Market Access Teams into the implications of vaccination. The Ministry has worked closely with industry to ensure that the vaccination policy aligns with the World Organisation for Animal Health return to trade policy.

An interim vaccination policy has been prepared, which requires sign-off from Cabinet. The final policy will feed into an overall foot and mouth disease response strategy to be presented to Cabinet in 2016/17.

The Ministry obtained an economic impact assessment report and concluded that vaccines would be appropriate in a large outbreak but not in a small outbreak. There has also been work looking at the benefits of using the vaccine.

A vaccination operational plan includes confirming how the vaccine will be obtained and used if required during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We have evidence that the Ministry intends to review this plan as other aspects of foot and mouth disease readiness develop.

The Ministry has had a test run of getting the vaccine from France, through the border, to the organisation that will issue the vaccine. The Ministry has tested the devices that dispense the vaccine. Problems identified in the "dry run" have been fed back into the Ministry's operational plans.

The Ministry has also worked closely with industry on the vaccine policy and market access implications.

Improving the capability of response staff

The Ministry has prioritised and made significant progress in its work to improve the capability and capacity of response staff. It has scheduled further work on this.

The Ministry's new Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate (see paragraph 2.9) promotes organisational alignment and is responsible for building capacity and contingency planning.

The Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate is completing a three-year programme of work called "Delivering people capability and capacity" that includes seven projects in varying stages of completion. These projects are intended to identify and strengthen the capability and capacity of people and systems for responses.

Under the Single Scalable Response Model, all responses are delivered in the same way and staff are trained to use the model. The Ministry told us that, since November 2014, it has trained more than 300 staff members to use the model.

The Ministry:

  • is focusing on improving staff members' skills, including providing mentoring and opportunities for development;
  • has prepared a people capability and career pathway for quarantine and compliance officers; and
  • has improved some aspects of training programmes, such as National Biosecurity Capability Network training.

Improving staff capability and capacity

The Ministry has improved its workforce planning, particularly since March 2014. Its forward-looking strategic focus to its workforce planning is aimed at ensuring that the required skills and capacity are available.

The Ministry has a tool that allows it to identify the improvements in workforce planning it needs. Government Industry Agreements allow the Ministry to use industry resources for responses. This can help with planning.

The National Biosecurity Capability Network is a network of people and resources that can be called on to deal with biosecurity incursions at short notice. Since our last audit, the network has improved the speed and efficiency of deploying members who have the required and appropriate skills for the particular response.

The Co-ordinated Incident Management System and the Single Scalable Response Model identify what roles will be needed in a response. This helps to plan a response.

Managers have prepared and validated a database of response experience, technical skills, and training for those working in responses throughout the Ministry. This database allows the new Learning Management System to be tested against response requirements. Over time, this will provide a real-time view of current capability and gaps in response for line managers, workforce planners, and response managers.

The Ministry:

  • has improved recruitment processes by strengthening the internal recruitment team and taking a more stringent approach during the recruitment selection process; and
  • is managing staff performance more consistently, meaning that it can manage staffing more effectively by improving staff capability, competence, and performance.

Improving how the Ministry manages information

The Ministry has improved the way it manages information. The Intelligence, Planning and Coordination directorate helps to collate and share information from different systems. The Ministry has also set up an information governance board to help it to rationalise and better integrate information.

The Ministry does not have an integrated information system. It is currently reviewing its information management needs. The information governance board was set up to provide governance and oversight of the information systems it uses or may require.

The Ministry has prepared an information systems strategic plan that runs to 2030. This plan requires in-depth analysis of business requirements and the business systems that support current demands. The plan also requires the Ministry to identify possible options for managing information.

The Ministry has prepared a map of information systems and solutions for addressing emerging business requirements throughout the Ministry. It has budgeted $2 million for enhancements to its information management system.

The Ministry is also working to improve other current systems, such as the Laboratory Information Management System.

4: This "Readiness Board" group acts as a steering group to ensure that readiness work takes place in all of the Ministry's directorates.

5: Proficiency testing involves different analysts carrying out the same analyses on the same samples and comparing results.

6: See the National Biocontainment Laboratory project page in the Law and Policy section of the Ministry for Primary Industries website,