Auditor-General's overview

Auckland Council: Preparedness for responding to an emergency.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha o te motu, tēnā koutou.

About one third of New Zealand's population lives in the Auckland region. As the largest commercial centre in the country, the Auckland region contributes almost 40% of the nation's gross domestic product. It has a significant impact on the standard of living for all New Zealanders.

Because of the Auckland region's large population, location, and geography, it is vulnerable to many natural hazards (including tsunami, volcanic eruptions, severe weather events, landslides, and earthquakes) and biological hazards (such as pandemics).

For these reasons, it is critical that Auckland communities are resilient and well prepared to respond to, and recover from, significant emergency events.

Auckland Council's 2021/22 annual report includes performance measures that indicate about three quarters of Aucklanders have a good understanding of the types of emergencies that could occur. However, they also indicate that only two thirds are prepared for an emergency. The results of Statistics New Zealand's 2021 General Social Survey showed that only 14% of people in the Auckland region lived in a household with basic emergency preparations. This is less than the national average.

Auckland Council plays a critical role in emergency preparedness and management in the Auckland region. The Council is responsible for co-ordinating and supporting the work of the Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group.1 This group comprises councillors, representatives of the Independent Māori Statutory Board, and observers from relevant organisations (such as emergency services), lifeline utilities (such as suppliers of water and electricity), and welfare agencies. They all need to work together to implement the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group Plan (the Group Plan) and provide emergency management support to communities in the Auckland region.2

In 2019, I agreed with Auckland Council to review how prepared the Council was to support Auckland's response to, and recovery from, significant emergency events. At that time, there had not been a large-scale natural disaster to test the Council's emergency management capabilities.

My staff carried out work in 2019 and identified substantial concerns. The Group Plan was published in 2016, but there had been limited progress in implementing it. Auckland Council did not have a coherent programme of emergency management readiness exercises and testing in place. Auckland Emergency Management, the business unit in Auckland Council responsible for supporting emergency management activities, also needed to improve how it worked with other agencies involved in emergency management in the Auckland region.

In my view, Auckland Emergency Management's work programme was too ambitious, and the business unit was not well positioned to carry it out. Continued restructuring and staff turnover had eroded institutional knowledge and impacted Auckland Emergency Management's ability to make significant progress.

I was also concerned that Auckland Council's systems for prioritising activity, monitoring and reporting progress, and measuring effectiveness were not adequate to support good governance of its emergency management activities.

In 2020, my Office prioritised work looking at the Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This significantly affected our review of Auckland Council. At this time, Auckland Emergency Management was also focused on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As well as Covid-19, several emergencies occurred in Auckland in 2020 and 2021. These included water shortages in February 2020, the Papatoetoe tornado in June 2021, and the West Auckland floods in August 2021.

To some extent, these emergency events have tested Auckland Council's emergency management preparedness. Although the Council told us that it has learnt valuable lessons from responding to these events, and reviews were carried out into the Council's response, not all recommendations from those reviews have been systematically implemented.

None of these events were of the scale of the January 2023 floods. Auckland Council's response to the January 2023 floods has been the subject of a separate independent review, Auckland Flood Response Review: Independent, External Review of Events, January 27-29, 2023 (the 2023 independent review) by a former Commissioner of Police.3 That response was not the focus of our audit. I am pleased to see that there has been an independent review of the response.

My team resumed work with Auckland Council in the second half of 2022 to understand how much progress it had made since 2019. In early 2023, we spoke again with representatives from some relevant organisations about their relationship with the Council and the Council's current emergency management capability and capacity.

What we found

In my view, Auckland Council is better positioned to carry out its emergency management functions in 2023 than it was in 2019. We saw evidence that the Council made changes in response to our draft findings and implemented lessons from recent emergency events.

By late 2022, Auckland Council had fully staffed Auckland Emergency Management and increased capacity to support its emergency management preparedness work with iwi, Māori, and local boards. A more focused and prioritised emergency management work programme was under way and a structured training programme had been re-established. Auckland Emergency Management was working more closely with other regional emergency management organisations and the National Emergency Management Agency. It had also improved how it monitors the progress of its emergency preparedness work.

These are encouraging developments. However, there is still much to do, including creating a clear strategy and plan for working with communities to build resilience, strengthening working relationships with Māori, and responding to the findings from the 2023 independent review. Auckland Council also needs a more systematic approach to testing its systems and processes by running regular emergency management readiness exercises, carrying out post-event evaluations, and implementing improvements.

It is important that Auckland Council continues to build on the progress it has made. Continued restructuring, staff turnover, and frequent disruptions in Auckland Emergency Management have all been significant factors in why the Council has not been able to fully implement the Group Plan. The Council needs to better support Auckland Emergency Management to build momentum with its work programme. Consistent leadership and support from governance are key to this.

In my view, it is essential that the Group Plan is reviewed and updated as soon as possible. This is an important opportunity for Auckland Council to continue to assess what it has learned from recent emergency events, re-engage with relevant organisations and communities, and set realistic and achievable goals for improving emergency management in the Auckland region.

Auckland Council told us that work to review and update the Group Plan has started and is scheduled for completion in January 2024. This time frame should allow the Council to align the plan with wider reform of the national Civil Defence and Emergency Management regulatory framework that is currently in progress.

Although it is important to consider how wider reforms will affect the Group Plan, I strongly encourage the Council to prioritise this work. Recent flooding events demonstrate that emergencies can happen at any time with devastating effects. The Council needs to be properly prepared for the next emergency event.

I have made six recommendations to support the Council's emergency preparedness and management work. I note that my recommendations to update and finalise the Group Plan and to carry out regular emergency management readiness exercises are also recommendations in the 2023 independent review. The overlap in these recommendations reinforces their importance.

I intend to follow up in 12 months on what progress Auckland Council has made against these recommendations. As part of my follow up, I intend to look at the Council's progress against the recommendations in the 2023 independent review. The Council has committed to many actions. It is critically important that it prioritises its efforts and stays focused.

There is considerable public interest in how Auckland Council will support its communities to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. I encourage the Council to keep the public well informed about its progress with emergency preparedness activities and with implementing recommendations from my review and the 2023 independent review.

I acknowledge the significant effort that Auckland Council made in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and other recent emergency events. I thank Council staff for their continued co-operation with my review. Although this review has taken longer to finalise than we would have liked, the Council did make some improvements in response to the preliminary findings from our work. I also thank people from the agencies and organisations involved in emergency management in the Auckland region who spoke with my team during our work.

Naku noa, nā

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General | Tumuaki o te Mana Arotake

22 June 2023

1: Civil defence and emergency management groups are established under section 12(1) and 12(1A) of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002.

2: Auckland Council (2016), Working together to build a resilient Auckland: Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group Plan 2016-21, at

3: Bush, Mike (2023), Auckland Flood Response Review: Independent, External Review of Events, January 27-29, 2023. Bush International Consulting.