Part 3: Working with others

Auckland Council: Preparedness for responding to an emergency.

In this Part, we discuss:

We wanted to understand how effectively the Council works with relevant organisations to build readiness and resilience for natural disasters and other emergencies. We expected the Council to:

  • identify which organisations it needs to work with to effectively build resilience and readiness and carry out emergency management activities in communities; and
  • understand how prepared and resilient the diverse communities in the Auckland region are for an emergency event and have a work programme for improving their preparedness and resilience.

Summary of findings

When we began our review in 2019, we found that the effectiveness of the Council's working relationships with relevant organisations was variable. A significant reason for this was the high staff turnover in Auckland Emergency Management before 2019, which was affected by three restructures between 2014 and 2019.

Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergency events has tested the Council's relationships with relevant organisations and we have seen evidence that these relationships are improving. All the representatives from relevant organisations we spoke to told us this was the case. The Council has also improved its capacity and capability to work with Māori in recent years. However, in our view, work is still required to strengthen the Council's working relationships with its 21 local boards.

The review and update of the Group Plan gives the Council an important opportunity to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all the groups involved in implementing the plan, and to further strengthen relationships with relevant organisations.

In 2019, our view was that the Council's community resilience work was reactive rather than prioritised according to community needs. In 2023, the Council still lacks a co-ordinated plan for improving the resilience of its communities.

We strongly recommend that the Council prepare a strategy and plan to improve community resilience. Increasing community awareness and preparedness for emergency events is an important part of this. Recent surveys highlight the need for more work in this area. We encourage the Council to review the findings of recent surveys about preparedness to identify the implications for its emergency management work.

The quality of key relationships has been variable

The Group Plan emphasises the value of effective partnerships with important groups and organisations, including iwi and Māori, the Council's 21 local boards, the Auckland Lifelines Group, and the Welfare Co-ordination Group. At the time of our 2019 work, it was our view that the Council did not understand the value of these relationships or was not drawing on them enough.

Staff turnover in Auckland Emergency Management also undermined the relationships between the Council and organisations that provided welfare services. This created risks to effectively providing welfare support after an emergency event.

Auckland Emergency Management was restructured three times between 2014 and 2019, which led to several years of significant and sustained staff turnover. Three different people held the general manager role during this time.

We are concerned that this situation continued for a prolonged period. In our view, governance over the Council's emergency management activities during this time was inadequate.

This level of disruption and staff turnover limited continuity of staff to consistently carry out, monitor, and report on work. Emergency management expertise and institutional knowledge was eroded.

Lack of staff continuity also negatively affected relationships with key partners, created an unstable and uncertain work environment, and undermined staff's ability to progress their work. It is important that our findings and views in this report are understood in this context.

We have seen recent evidence that staff turnover in Auckland Emergency Management has reduced. In late 2022, teams were fully staffed. Auckland Emergency Management has established new roles and recruited staff to support emergency preparedness work with iwi, Māori, and local boards.

Relationships with relevant organisations have changed over time. Since 2019, there have been changes in personnel or membership across these groups. The experience of working together responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergency events appears to have improved relationships between the Council, Auckland Emergency Management, and partners.

In early 2023, we spoke to some representatives of relevant organisations to understand how their relationship with Auckland Emergency Management has changed since our work in 2019. Those we spoke to indicated that their relationships had improved and they felt confident about working together well in emergencies. However, we were also told that there were still opportunities for further improvement at the operational level, particularly in relation to understanding roles and responsibilities during a response.

The Welfare Co-ordination Group

The Council draws on its partnerships with agencies that provide welfare support throughout the Auckland region. The Welfare Co-ordination Group is a group of agencies that provide welfare services and plan for, and respond to, emergency events. These agencies have a shared welfare plan of action that they follow in an emergency event to deliver emergency welfare services and support.

The welfare plan describes nine welfare sub-functions at an operational level. Lead agencies have been designated for each sub-function and are responsible for co-ordinating and delivering services. Auckland Emergency Management is responsible for some sub-functions.

The nine sub-functions, and the lead agencies for them, are:

  • identifying and registering people who require assistance during and after an emergency event (Auckland Emergency Management);
  • managing the system for identifying people's needs and co-ordinating how agencies will respond to those needs (Auckland Emergency Management);
  • helping family, whānau, and significant others to make contact during and after an emergency event (New Zealand Police);
  • care and protection services for children and young people (Oranga Tamariki);
  • psychosocial support for individuals and communities (Te Whatu Ora);
  • providing basic household goods and services to support affected people (Auckland Emergency Management);
  • providing shelter and accommodation for people who have been displaced by an emergency (Auckland Emergency Management and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment);
  • providing information about, and access to, financial assistance for people affected by an emergency event (Ministry of Social Development); and
  • providing for the needs of animals when an emergency event means that their owners are not able to (Ministry for Primary Industries).

In 2019, when we interviewed representatives of relevant organisations (including members of the Auckland Welfare Co-ordination Group), they spoke of the strong relationships they had with the Council. Some were complimentary about staff contribution to emergency management, particularly staff from Auckland Emergency Management. However, they also noted the effect that Auckland Emergency Management's restructures had on relationships (see paragraphs 3.10-3.13).

The Auckland Lifelines Group

The Auckland Lifelines Group is a collaboration of lifeline organisations in the Auckland region. The Group aims to improve the resilience of the Auckland region's lifeline utilities,13 with a particular focus on risk reduction and readiness. Its objectives include:

  • encouraging and supporting the work of lifeline organisations to identify hazards and mitigate the effects of hazards on lifeline utilities;
  • facilitating communication between organisations to increase awareness and understand interdependencies between organisations;
  • co-ordinating lifeline utilities input into emergency management planning;
  • developing best practice approaches to mitigation, readiness, and response for lifeline utilities; and
  • creating and maintaining awareness of the importance of lifelines utilities and reducing the vulnerability of lifeline utilities in the Auckland region.

We heard that the Auckland Lifelines Group effectively supports connections between organisations across the region. The Lifeline Utility Co-ordinator is a Council staff member who is responsible for co-ordinating engagement between lifeline utilities. The Lifeline Utility Co-ordinator is the hub for communicating information during an emergency response and preparing for an impending emergency.

We were told that when there is advance notice of an emergency, such as a severe weather event, members of the group and the Council exchange useful information. However, we also heard that during an emergency there can be challenges getting timely status updates.

We also heard that Auckland Lifelines Group members were sometimes reluctant to share information about the resilience of their assets. Some members do not share business continuity plans with the Council.

We understand some information could be sensitive and that there is a need to maintain a level of confidentiality about how systems operate. However, it is also important for the Council to improve its understanding of the risks to lifeline utilities in an emergency.

Proposed amendments to the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act include a requirement for critical infrastructure entities to establish and publish their planned "emergency levels of service".14

Auckland Council should continue to strengthen partnerships with Māori

The National Disaster Resilience Strategy Rautaki ā-Motu Manawaroa Aituā emphasises the importance of partnerships with Māori to build disaster resilience. The Council acknowledges that this needs to be a priority.

The Civil Defence Emergency Management Māori Responsiveness Plan 2016-2021 was developed to support the Council to improve the delivery of the Council's commitments to Māori and te Tiriti o Waitangi. The Council published this plan in August 2016.

In 2019, we spoke with a representative from the secretariat of the Auckland Independent Māori Statutory Board. They told us they would like to see the Council increase its engagement with Māori and develop a specific plan for emergency management with marae and Māori communities.

In 2023, we spoke with staff members from the secretariat for the Māori Statutory Board about its work and relationship with the Council. We heard that representatives from the Board regularly participate in civil defence and emergency management meetings and that Auckland Emergency Management and the Board secretariat are in frequent contact.

Members of the secretariat we spoke with acknowledged the progress the Council had made with initiatives such as Kia Rite, Kia Mau15 and recent work with marae on emergency management matters. However, staff still felt more work was needed.

Although staff from the secretariat told us that Council staff are committed to working with the Board and Māori on emergency management matters, they often lacked capacity to do so effectively. Staff from the secretariat acknowledged that the Council has other resources that can provide Auckland Emergency Management additional support when needed. However, staff from the secretariat told us that, when this happens, it often comes at the expense of other work. Overall, staff from the secretariat felt Council staff were spread too thin given the level of guidance that the Council needs to engage effectively with Māori communities.

Council staff, including those working in Auckland Emergency Management, told us about past challenges that the Council has had in understanding Māori perspectives on emergency management and in establishing effective relationships. The Council's relationship with iwi and Māori was sometimes described to us by Council staff as "transactional". In our view, it is important that the Council reflects on how it can improve engagement when it reviews and updates the Group Plan.

In 2020, the Council participated in an online hui with Te Kotahitanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, a collective of 36 marae in the Auckland region. The Council saw this as an opportunity to establish partnerships with marae, support resilience-building activities, and improve capability for an emergency response. The Council told us that following this hui, several marae expressed an interest in working collaboratively with the Council.

Auckland Emergency Management has been working with marae using a framework called Whakaoranga Marae, Whakaoranga Whānau (strong marae, strong family).

The framework emphasises whakawhānaungatanga, the process of building and maintaining relationships based on understanding and connection. It incorporates mātauranga Māori to build knowledge of hazards and risks and identify ways for communities to support each other.16 The aim is to support marae to develop their own plans for their communities because they best understand the history and strengths of their people, and the hazards and risks they face.

The Council told us that its relationships with iwi and Māori also improved after working together to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergency events. For example, the Council told us that it worked alongside iwi, hapū, whānau, and marae to ensure that Māori communities had their voices heard and needs met during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We encourage the Council to continue improving these relationships and explore other ways to broaden its reach and engagement with the diverse communities in the Auckland region, working with the Māori Statutory Board, other Council business units (such as Ngā Mātārae: Māori Outcomes Directorate), and the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum.

We understand the Council has immediate plans to:

  • engage with three of the 13 identified marae that have a high hazard risk; and
  • confirm the approach, structure, and resource requirements for achieving positive welfare outcomes for Māori in an emergency.

Auckland Council should continue to strengthen connections with local boards

There are 21 local boards across the Auckland region. Local boards provide governance at a local level in the Council. Members are elected to represent and support their communities, make decisions on local matters, and provide input into regional strategies, policies, plans, and decisions.

The Group Plan emphasises the critical role local boards have in working with communities to better understand disaster risks and deliver emergency management services. The Group Plan states that local boards are responsible for implementing the 4 Rs framework directly with their communities.

In 2019, some local board chairpersons told us that they were unclear about what the Council expected of them in relation to emergency management. The Review of the response to the Auckland storm of 10 April 201817 also highlighted several local board members' concerns about the availability of information and support to their local communities (see paragraph 4.46).

Lack of clarity can reduce the effectiveness of an emergency response. The 2018 review recommended that Auckland Emergency Management support local boards to play an appropriate role in future responses to emergency events. This support included clarifying their role and providing resources to enable them to work effectively with Auckland Emergency Management.

Despite the positive intent signalled in the Group Plan and other corporate documents, it was clear to us in 2019 that local boards were not sufficiently involved with, or informed about, the Council's emergency management activity.

In 2020, the Council prepared a local board engagement strategy. The aim of the strategy was to improve understanding, communication, and collaboration between the Council and local boards.

More recently, the Council told us they were planning community engagement initiatives with 12 local boards.18 The Council told us this would include meeting with new local boards and a variety of other community and business organisations, as well as participating in community events.

Although these are positive developments, there is still much to do. We encourage the Council to continue this work so that local boards clearly understand how they can effectively support emergency management for their communities and across the region.

Greater clarity of roles and responsibilities is needed

In 2019, we found that the roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities of agencies involved in Auckland's emergency management activities were often unclear. The Group Plan identifies a lead agency for each of the actions in the Plan. Responsibility for implementing actions is mostly assigned to Auckland Emergency Management, even though a range of other organisations need to work together and with the Council to provide emergency management services in the Auckland region.

The Council has recognised that it needs to work with relevant organisations more effectively. In August 2021, Auckland Emergency Management met with members of the Co-ordinating Executive Group (see paragraphs 2.16-2.19) to identify and agree on priorities that other members of the Auckland CDEM Group could collaborate on and contribute to.

The Council told us that, as a result of these discussions, two working groups were established to progress priority work.

The first is the Emergency Management and Services Co-ordination Group. The purpose of this group is to co-ordinate and integrate work priorities across the agencies involved in emergency management. It is also expected to identify operational and tactical risks and escalate them to the Co-ordinating Executive Group.

The second working group is the Capability and Capacity Working Group. The purpose of this group is to better enable relevant organisations to share exercise and training resources and to identify regular opportunities for joint exercises and training.

We understand the Council also intends to develop a recovery operations guide for the Co-ordinating Executive Group and the Auckland CDEM Group to adopt. The guide will set out recovery roles, responsibilities, practices, and procedures. It will also clarify the recovery roles of local boards and council-controlled organisations.19

Updating the Group Plan provides further opportunity for the Council to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of all the groups involved in implementing the plan are clear and to strengthen relationships to ensure that they can effectively support that implementation.

The Council also has plans to improve its management of, and engagement with, volunteer groups. This work is expected to include completing a scan of existing and potential volunteer partnerships and developing a more structured volunteer management system.

Since our earlier work, the Council told us it worked more closely with the National Emergency Management Agency and other emergency management groups (particularly the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office). This includes:

  • signing up to a Partnership Charter between all civil defence and emergency management groups and the National Emergency Management Agency (launched in May 2022);
  • Council staff participating in quarterly workshops with the National Emergency Management Agency about the regulatory work programme (see paragraph 2.54); and
  • sharing staff across regions in emergencies.

Auckland Council still lacks a co-ordinated plan for community resilience

Although the Group Plan sets out an extensive list of community resilience principles, we did not see an overarching strategy or plan for building resilience throughout the Auckland region.

The Council told us that the National Disaster Resilience Strategy Rautaki ā-Motu Manawaroa Aituā has been guiding the Council's community resilience work since 2019. The Minister of Civil Defence issued this strategy in 2019 under section 31 of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. It outlines the vision and long-term goals for civil defence and emergency management in New Zealand. It also includes six objectives related to enabling, empowering, and supporting community resilience.

The national strategy provides useful direction. However, in our view, the Council's work programme to improve community resilience and preparedness for an emergency needs further development.

There is significant potential to improve awareness and preparedness for emergency events

The Council routinely reports against measures and targets for community awareness and preparedness for emergency events in its annual reports.

Figure 4 shows the percentage of Aucklanders who are prepared for an emergency and the percentage who have a good understanding of the types of emergencies that could occur. Figure 4 also shows the targets set by the Council for 2018/19 to 2021/22 for each of these measures.

The percentage of Aucklanders who are prepared for an emergency event is less than the percentage who have a good understanding of what emergencies could occur. Although results for both measures generally meet the Council's targets, results have declined between 2019/20 and 2021/22.

The results from the Council's annual reports about emergency preparedness are different from the emergency preparedness results from Statistics New Zealand's 2021 General Social Survey. Statistics New Zealand's survey shows only 14% of people in the Auckland region living in a household had basic emergency preparations, which is lower than the national average.20

It is not clear why the results are so different. Regardless, both show that a considerable number of people in the Auckland region might be underprepared for an emergency.

We encourage the Council to review these surveys to understand why the findings about the level of preparedness are different and whether there are implications for its emergency management work.

The Council told us it is planning to complete and publish a public awareness strategy in the near future.

Figure 4
Percentage of Aucklanders prepared for an emergency and who have a good understanding of the types of emergencies that could occur, 2018/19 to 2021/22

Figure 4 is a line graph that shows percentage of Aucklanders prepared for an emergency and who have a good understanding of the types of emergencies that could occur, 2018/19 to 2021/22

Source: Auckland Council annual reports 2018/19-2021/22.

Auckland Council provides limited emergency management information in languages other than English

The Council's website includes advice on:

  • making a household emergency plan;
  • preparing emergency items at home;
  • preparing a getaway kit for when people need to evacuate; and
  • checking in with friends and neighbours.

However, much of the Council's advice is only in English. The Council has also not assessed the uptake of the information that it does translate into other languages.

The Council told us it plans to translate material into Samoan, Hindi, Tongan, Mandarin, and Fijian to coincide with the relevant language weeks. The Council is exploring ways to communicate emergency management information, such as with a Pacific Disaster Communications Working Group that intends to develop resources for distribution to Pacific communities. The Council has work in progress to produce story books in four languages (Mandarin, te reo Māori, Hindi, and Samoan) about understanding and preparing for storms and floods. The Council received funding from the National Emergency Management Agency for this work.

More work is required to support isolated and vulnerable communities

The Council told us that it uses the National Disaster Resilience Strategy to determine which groups in the community to work with to build resilience. The National Disaster Resilience Strategy references various groups, including Māori, disabled people, children, rural people, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The Council said that, since 2016, its approach has focused on engaging with priority communities and working alongside them to strengthen their disaster awareness, social networks, preparedness, and community-led response capability.

For example, as of November 2019, the Council had identified 37 isolated communities that were at risk of being cut off during an emergency event. Although the Council was actively working with 16 of these communities, this was because they had proactively sought assistance from the Council after they were isolated during or after an emergency event. We did not see evidence of a clear plan that prioritised working with communities that had the highest needs. We are concerned that there could be other communities not getting the same level of support.

We also heard that, during flooding events in early 2023, Auckland Emergency Management did not communicate effectively with all communities and there were delays in engaging with some of them. One representative of an emergency management partner agency we spoke to was frustrated by gaps in response activities that, in their view, Auckland Emergency Management should have helped organise.

The representative told us that there was limited public safety messaging about the dangers of floodwater and a lack of monitoring of evacuated properties to ensure that they remained empty and not occupied by homeless or otherwise vulnerable people. We were also told that better planning is needed for establishing welfare centres to ensure that all agencies are aware of them.

Follow-up from specific community initiatives has also been limited. For example, in 2017, the Council held two consultation workshops with people from Chinese communities. Participants at the workshop talked about their communities' understanding of emergency management and discussed resilience from a Chinese cultural perspective.

The notes we reviewed from those workshops described a need for the Council to work closely with Chinese communities to raise awareness of emergency management and hazards and risks. However, we found no evidence that the Council took specific actions in response to the workshops, other than telling us it planned to hold a business resilience conference for Chinese business owners in 2022/23.

The Council also proposes to develop additional resources to support various groups in the community to improve their emergency resilience and response. These are:

  • a Lifestyle Emergency Preparedness Handbook for lifestyle block owners, supported by three workshops in conjunction with Fire and Emergency New Zealand;
  • a Places of Worship Handbook; and
  • a guidebook for communities to set up and run a community-led emergency hub with practice exercises and supporting signage.

Auckland Emergency Management is also involved in wider Council initiatives aimed at building the resilience of communities that are at high risk of coastal and other flooding. These include working with:

  • Healthy Waters and Wai Ora to support community engagement on flood preparedness;
  • the Community Climate Action team to integrate disaster adaption initiatives into Climate Action Plans;
  • the Sustainability Initiatives Team to embed community-led emergency hubs into their Sustainability Framework for 120 community hubs; and
  • the Resilient Land and Coast team to integrate disaster resilience-building into Shoreline Adaptation plans.

All of the Council's planned activities are steps in the right direction. The Council told us it is taking a deliberate, strategic, considered, and planned approach to this work. However, in our view, a clear strategy and plan that prioritises activities and guides the Council's community resilience-building efforts would be beneficial. The Council needs to carefully consider what work it will prioritise, and remain focused on making progress.

We also think that further work is required to better understand the strengths and vulnerabilities of the Auckland region's diverse communities and to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Recommendation 2
We recommend that Auckland Council prepare a strategy and plan to guide its community resilience work, including how it will work with local boards.

13: Lifeline utilities provide infrastructure services to the community. These include water, wastewater, transport, energy, and telecommunications. Examples of lifeline utilities include suppliers or distributors of water, electricity generators or network distributors, road and rail network providers. For more information, see See also the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 for a more complete description of lifeline utilities.

14: See the Emergency Management Bill 225-1 (2023), at

15: Kia Rite, Kia Mau is a programme being trialled in a small number of schools that places te ao Māori at the heart of how whānau visualise and prepare for hazards. See Auckland Council minutes (February 2023), Kōmiti Ārai Tūmatanui me Te Toko Raru Ohorere/Civil Defence and Emergency Management Committee, at

16: Mātauranga Māori refers to the body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, including the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity, and cultural practices (definition from

17: Smol, David (2018), Review of the response to the Auckland storm of 10 April 2018, at

18: The 12 local boards are Rodney, Waiheke, Aotea Great Barrier Island, Waitematā, Devonport-Takapuna, Upper Harbour, Ōtara Papatoetoe, Puketāpapa, Waitākere Ranges, Hibiscus and Bays, Papakura, and Manurewa.

19: Council-controlled organisations are part of the Auckland Lifelines Group. This is because several of them provide critical lifeline services, including transport services (Auckland Transport) and water supply and wastewater services (Watercare). Auckland Council is a part shareholder of Auckland Airport (transport services) and owner of the Ports of Auckland (freight services). Both of these organisations are members of the Auckland Lifelines Group and provide critical lifeline services. The Council is also a member of the Auckland Lifelines Group.

20: See Statistics New Zealand (2022), One in five say their household is prepared for a natural disaster, at