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Community-based Civil Defence
Emergency Management Planning
in Northland, New Zealand

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2010-1

Community-based Civil Defence
Emergency Management Planning
in Northland, New Zealand

Antoinette Mitchell, Emergency Management Officer, Whangarei District Council, New Zealand
Bruce C. Glavovic, EQC Fellow in Natural Hazards Planning, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Email: B.Glavovic@massey.ac.nz
Bill Hutchinson, Civil Defence Co-ordinator, Far North District Council, New Zealand
Graeme MacDonald, CDEM Senior Programme Manager, Northland Regional Council, New Zealand
Melanie Roberts, Formerly Emergency Management Adviser, Whangarei District Council, New Zealand
Jim Goodland, Emergency Support Officer, Kaipara District Council, New Zealand
Keywords: Community-based emergency planning, public participation, Northland, New Zealand

Antoinette Mitchell

Emergency Management Officer
Whangarei District Council
New Zealand

Bruce C. Glavovic

EQC Fellow in Natural Hazards Planning
Massey University
Palmerston North
New Zealand

Bill Hutchinson

Civil Defence Co-ordinator
Far North District Council
New Zealand

Graeme MacDonald

CDEM Senior Programme Manager
Northland Regional Council
New Zealand

Melanie Roberts

Formerly Emergency Management Adviser
Whangarei District Council
New Zealand

Jim Goodland

Emergency Support Officer
Kaipara District Council
New Zealand



Building sustainable, hazard-resilient communities is a challenging imperative. Meaningful community involvement in planning for and managing hazard risks is the starting point for meeting this challenge. This research presents lessons learned from community-based emergency management experiences in the Northland region of New Zealand. The Northland experience is described through a case study of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan process. This experience and the lessons learned are discussed in the context of international experience in community involvement in natural hazards planning and collaborative planning more generally.

Community-based Civil Defence
Emergency Management Planning
in Northland, New Zealand


New Zealand experiences many natural and human-induced hazards (OCDESC, 2007), a number of which occur in Northland – one of the largest geographic regions in the country (see Figure 1). Significant flood events in 2007 and 2008 affected many Northland communities and presented a particular challenge because of their remoteness and relatively high number of vulnerable groups. Building “resilient communities together” – Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group’s motto – is therefore a challenging undertaking. This article focuses on how local communities in the region have been involved in developing community-based response plans, and details the lessons learned from this experience that have helped build local community resilience. These lessons are based on the insights and first-hand experiences of the region’s emergency management team, after more than two years of community-based response planning.

New Zealand ’s National CDEM Strategy and CDEM arrangements at regional and local levels aim to achieve, and provide general guidance for, building resilient communities. Community engagement and integrated planning are central to this task. In Northland, engaging community groups and encouraging involvement in the planning process was seen to be the point of departure for community-based CDEM planning. Communicating the local risks and encouraging communities to determine how they will reduce these risks and prepare for, respond to and recover from hazard events was seen to be an integral part of community-based CDEM planning. One form this local planning can take is the formulation of Community Response Plans. Working with the local community to formulate a response plan results in an increased understanding of local hazards and risks. It also encourages the community to work together to identify how they will collectively respond to a hazard event utilising their local resources and skills. This article describes the process for developing Community Response Plans in Northland – a process that is adapted to meet the needs of the diverse communities in the region. A case study of the formulation of the Kaitaia Community Response plan is outlined to illustrate this process. Key lessons learned from working with the community in Northland are presented based on the experiences and views of members of the region’s emergency management team. The Northland lessons are discussed in the context of international experience in community engagement for hazards planning and, in particular, guiding principles for community-based planning.

Community involvement in all hazards planning

Flooding and other natural hazards are naturally occurring events. They only become hazards or hazard risks when people and the things they value, such as property, are exposed to and threatened by such events (Paton & Johnston, 2006). Historically, attention has focused mainly on the physical rather than the human dimension of these events. There has been a tendency to rely on structural protection (such as stop-banks in the case of floods) to keep hazards away from people, as well as warning systems and relief and insurance to ease recovery (Burby, 1998; Haque & Etkin, 2007). There is a compelling need to understand better the integrated nature of human-natural systems; and that hazard risk is a function of human vulnerability and the physical dimensions (such as severity and probability) of hazard events (see e.g., Haque & Etkin, 2007; Oliver-Smith & Hoffman, 2002; Wisner et al., 2004). Wisner et al. (2004) developed a ‘progression of vulnerability’ model to explain how unsafe conditions, such as living in ‘fragile’ locations and marginal livelihoods, expose people to hazard events. They argue that attention needs to be focused on the ‘dynamic pressures’ that give rise to ‘unsafe conditions’ and which are ultimately driven by ‘root causes’, such as limited access to power, resources and institutional structures and their underlying political and economic ideologies. The ability to reduce hazard risk is thus primarily a function of the extent to which these driving forces and root causes of vulnerability can be addressed. Or put differently, the challenge is to build community or social resilience and adaptive capacity so that communities can withstand hazard impacts and recover through self-organising, social learning and adaptive capacities (see e.g., Adger, 2000; Adger, et al., 2005; Berkes & Folke, 1998; Berkes et al., 2003; Norris et al., 2008; Olsson et al., 2004; Walker et al., 2004; Walker & Salt, 2006). Meaningful community involvement in planning for and managing hazard risks is the essential starting point for this endeavour.

There is a long history of community involvement in land-use planning (see e.g., Arnstein 1969; Healy, 2006; Lane, 2005) and, more recently, in environmental policy-making and risk management (Renn, et al., 1995; Renn, 2006; Stern & Fineberg 1996). A distinction should be made between processes that result in little more than a one-way flow of information from the public to decision-makers and the more challenging task of engaging citizens in participatory processes that enable them to have a ‘real say’ in the final decision. Decades of planning experience demonstrates that achieving meaningful participation is a difficult undertaking. Significant challenges must be faced, including reluctance to participate in time-consuming and technically demanding processes; dealing with strong vested interests that can trump community concerns about safety and sustainability; and entrenched power differences, marginalisation and inequity that can result in vulnerabilities that are brutally exposed in disasters, as was tragically demonstrated in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Brinkley, 2006; Dyson, 2006; Horne, 2006 ).

Recognition of the need to involve communities in emergency management planning processes is a recent development (see e.g., Murphy, 2007; Pearce, 2003). It is part of a more fundamental shift from the historical focus on emergency response and recovery towards pre-event planning to avoid and mitigate hazard impacts and build sustainable, hazard-resilient communities. Central to this paradigm shift is better integration of land-use planning and emergency management processes (Burby, 1998; Mileti, 1999). The need to augment Government-driven emergency management efforts with authentic community participation is crucial and is now being advocated in countries as diverse as Australia (Pearce, 2003); Canada (Murphy, 2007); Taiwan (Chen et al., 2006); India (Andharia, 2002; Newport & Jawahar, 2003); Japan (Bajek et al., 2007); America (Kweit & Kweit: 2004) and the Netherlands (Warner, 2008). In short, public participation in emergency management ‘matters’ – it is vital in pre-event planning as well as in post-disaster planning: “The lesson for officials, generally and not just after disasters, is that citizens must feel that they are involved, for it is the citizens who ultimately determine what makes up good policy” (Kweit & Kweit: 2004: 369).

New Zealand has entrenched key elements of this paradigm shift into its land-use planning and emergency management policies, laws and professional practice. Sustainability and citizen involvement in planning processes are central to public decision-making, notably through provisions in the Local Government Act and Resource Management Act (see e.g., Berke et al., 2004; Cheyne & Comrie, 2002 ; Memon & Perkins, 2000). These laws also require the involvement of Maori in land-use planning processes – as their traditional knowledge and practices are an important source of expertise that can play a significant role in building resilient communities (King et al., 2007). As a result of these provisions, local councils have become more open and inclusive, and citizens have more opportunity to influence public decision-making (see e.g., Cheyne & Comrie, 2002; Forgie et al., 1999). But some argue that there is still a gap between theory and practice, and that much remains to be done to promote meaningful public participation in land-use planning processes in this country (Gunder & Mouat, 2002). Sustainability and citizen involvement are supported and reinforced by the focus on community resilience that lies at the heart of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. Notwithstanding these provisions, there is room for improvement, notably by focusing more attention on pre-event recovery planning (Becker et al., 2008) and better integration of land-use planning and emergency management policy and practice (Saunders et al., 2007). Ensuring more meaningful opportunities for community involvement in emergency management planning is central to building more sustainable, hazard-resilient communities in New Zealand.

Many lessons have been learned from diverse collaborative endeavours (Wondolleck & Yaffee, 2000) and there is a wide range of best practice guidance available (see e.g., Creighton, 2005; www.iap2.org ). What are the guiding principles for undertaking more effective citizen involvement in processes to build more sustainable and resilient communities? The following guiding principles are drawn from Canadian efforts to promote collaboration and build consensus between diverse stakeholders in pursuit of sustainability (Cormic et al., 1996; NRTEE, 1993). Based on this experience, such processes need to be:

Considerable attention has been focused on involving local communities in the formulation of pre-event Community Response Plans in Northland. The next section describes these efforts. Lessons learned are then outlined. The above guiding principles provide a useful basis for analysing the Northland community engagement process; as e ach community was encouraged to develop and own their local Community Response Plan by determining what the plan covers, how they will respond and the local facilities and resources that will be utilised in the event of an emergency. To illustrate how this was achieved the following sections present a case study of the formulation and subsequent activation of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan.

Case Study of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan

Northland Setting
Northland is a long, narrow peninsula with a subtropical climate (see Figure 1). It has a land area of 1.25 million hectares and a population of 148,470 (Statistics NZ, 2006). Northland is a diverse region in both socio-economic patterns and environmental characteristics. It is renowned for its scenic and accessible coastline, sheltered harbours, many offshore islands and sub-tropical climate. While Northland is currently undergoing significant growth, particularly in eastern coastal environs, it remains a relatively poor and isolated region of New Zealand.

Figure 1: The Northland Setting
[Source: Destination Northland ( www.northlandnz.com )]

The Northland region is home to 3.7 percent of New Zealand's population (Statistics NZ, 2006). There are some 30 townships with populations of more than 500 people. The largest centre is the city of Whangarei with a population of just over 49,000. The population is generally concentrated along the region's east coast, particularly in the Whangarei and Bay of Islands areas.

Economic development has been slow in some of the more isolated areas of the region. However, more recently, Northland has shown signs of increased prosperity with future indicators looking very positive. Northland’s economy has a strong focus on agriculture, aquaculture, horticulture, forestry and tourism. Northland’s Gross Domestic Product is $3.3 billion. The agricultural sector contributes around $1 billion annually to the regional economy, with more than half of this coming from dairying. With its sub-tropical climate enabling grass growth over winter months, Northland has an advantage over other regions and there is potential for more growth in this sector. Tourism contributes an estimated $230-500 million to the regional economy and employs around 10 percent of the entire Northland workforce.

The mean annual rainfall ranges from about 1000-1300 mm in low-lying coastal areas to over 2500 mm on some of the higher country. Droughts are common in Northland during the summer months. High pressure weather conditions are prevalent during this period, often resulting in several weeks or months of dry and hot or windy weather. Records indicate that parts of the region have a drought of economic significance every three years on average. Approximately one-third of the yearly rainfall total falls in the winter months of June, July and August. The region experiences high-intensity rains which can cause severe flooding. Over the past 20 years there have been a number of high intensity short duration rainfall events that have caused significant damage to small isolated communities. In addition there have been longer duration events that have also delivered high volumes of rainfall which have caused flooding across the region. The March and July storms of 2007 are classic examples of these types of storms, with the March event involving 22 hours of heavy rainfall (see Figure 2 and Table 1).

Figure 2: The extent of flooding in Kaitaia in July 2007
Source: Far North District Council, Drawn by Bill Hutchinson and Judy Papuni

Table 1 presents rainfall figures for these two events. While the impact varied around the region, the March storm was classed as a 1-in-100 year event in places. The effects of the second event were compounded because clean up work from the March event was incomplete when the July storm hit. The two storms had significant impacts on the local economy due to storm damage and loss of income.

Table 1: Rainfall figures from the Northland Regional Council for the March and July 2007 Storms


28-29 March (mm)

10-11 July (mm)




Te Rore



North Hokianga (Rotokakahi)















Opouteke Brookvale



Twin Bridges









NRC Water Street






Tara (Mangawhai)















Western Hills Kerikeri



Marsden Point (port)



These storm events were a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the region to flood events, and the need to focus attention on building more hazard-resilient communities.

Catalyst for Change
In 2002 the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act was enacted to govern the manner in which the CDEM sector is structured in New Zealand. This legislation followed an in-depth review of the manner in which civil defence arrangements operated locally, regionally and at a national level. Amongst the changes outlined in the new legislation was the requirement for each region to work together to form CDEM Groups, based upon regional boundaries, to oversee the implementation of the new legislation and, in particular, to coordinate programmes to ensure that comprehensive emergency management, which follows the ‘4 R’s’ of reduction, readiness, response and recovery, is implemented. This was a significant shift from the earlier Civil Defence Act (1983) which had a wholly response and recovery focus. The new legislation also required CDEM Groups to develop regional plans, which include arrangements for the 4R’s (namely, reduction, readiness, response and recovery) but more importantly outline a strategic approach for the following five years.

In developing their regional plan, the Northland CDEM Group identified a goal of “Resilient Communities together”, with four supporting objectives (NCDEMG, 2004). Never before had civil defence in the Northland region had such a focused aim with associated objectives that clearly articulated how the aim was to be achieved. The four objectives of this plan are to:

Prior to developing the aim and objectives a comprehensive gap analysis was carried out across the region’s CDEM arrangements. During this process significant shortcomings were identified in the arrangements that were in place for preparing for and responding to emergency events in Northland. Community Response Plans were seen as an effective and efficient means of ensuring that at-risk communities in Northland had the capacity and capability to respond to any future emergency event. They also ensure a link between the community covered by the plan and the local authority’s CDEM arrangements, and were given a high priority in the prevailing Northland CDEM Group Plan.

Community Response Plans are designed for the response phase of an emergency and set out how the community will respond to an event with little or no outside assistance. The plans detail the local facilities and resources in the community and set out the roles and responsibilities of individuals and community groups. The most important aspect of these plans, however, is the fact that they are owned by the local community and set out their priorities. The relevant local council assists only with the formation and ongoing administration of the plan.

Community Response Planning Process
Community Response Plans have been given a high ranking in projects undertaken by the Northland CDEM Group (see Table 2). The initial step in the process is to identify communities that are exposed to significant risks from natural and human-induced hazards and who would benefit from having a Response Plan in place prior to an event occurring. The criteria used to identify these communities included, but were not limited to, factors such as geographical location, isolation, communications networks, emergency service presence, population, and the hazard types and the risks associated with them.

Table 2: Community Response Plans in Northland


Community Response Plans Underway or Completed (2008)

Far North District

Kaitaia; Hihi; Broadwood; Tauranga Bay; Taupo Bay; Karikari Peninsula; Pawarenga; Russell; South Hokianga; Rawene; Ahipara; Totara North

Whangarei District

Ruakaka; Whananaki; Hikurangi; Bland Bay; Oakura; Waipu

Kaipara District

Donnellys Crossing; Mangawhai

Future Plans

Far North District

Pukenui; Whangaroa; Taipa; Waima

Whangarei District

Ngunguru/Tutukaka; Pataua; Whangarei Heads; Pipiwai; Maungakaramea; Maungatapere/Poroti

Kaipara District

Omamari; Baylys Beach; Glinks Gully; Pouto; Tangiteroria; Dargaville; Ruawai; Te Koporu; Tinopai; Paparoa; Maungaturoto; Kaiwaka

The Far North town of Kaitaia was identified as meeting the criteria for preparing a Community Response Plan. The Kaitaia Community Response Plan process is described because it illustrates the key elements of community-based emergency management in Northland.

Kaitaia Community Response Plan
Kaitaia is New Zealand’s northern-most urban centre with a population of 6000 people (see Figure 1). It supports farming, vineyards, and other horticultural businesses as well as extensive supply services including both light and heavy manufacturing and production for export. It supports a thriving tourist industry, attracting visitors to the northern-most point of the North Island, Cape Reinga, some 115 km distant. Kaitaia is, however, located on a low lying plain and has a propensity to flood. For example, the town, including the central business district, experienced severe flooding in 1958.

Project Objectives: The objectives for the project were to develop a plan for Kaitaia that identified the hazards facing the community and to lay a foundation for how the community will plan for, respond to and recover from hazard events. A further objective was to develop a plan that ensured that the community was fully engaged in the planning process, and to enable them to take a lead role in emergency planning and have ownership of the final plan.

Project Management Process: The Northland CDEM Group sponsored the development of this plan with the Group Emergency Management Officer assigned to lead the project. It was determined that a Consulting Company (Steve McDowell Consulting Ltd) should be contracted to assist in the development of this plan and to guide the process to ensure a practical and effective outcome. This company was selected because of their extensive experience in emergency management, crisis management and business continuity processes, including some significant involvement with the CDEM sector in the region. The Emergency Management Officer for the Far North District Council also participated in this project as a key adviser.

Community Engagement: In August 2006 a community engagement plan was developed that included the delivery of media releases and a public information plan for the intended community meetings. The objective was to advertise the project throughout the community and hold an initial public meeting to introduce the proposed plan, key issues, concept outcomes for the plan, and to generate discussion about ideas and issues that the plan should address. It was from this initial public meeting that a Working Group made up of emergency services, government agencies and key members of the community was formed to start the planning process. Once the group was formed, a meeting was held with all of the stakeholders to begin to work on the plan and to agree on an achievable timeframe for completion. It was also decided that on completion of the plan, the Working Group would hold another public meeting to present the plan to the wider community for comment and feedback. This would encourage further community participation and ownership of the plan and the planning process. The Working Group enjoyed active participation by representatives of all key interest groups. Some, however, felt that there could have been better representation of residents and the business sector, especially given that the business district and over half of the residential area is built on the floodplain of the Awanui River and are at serious risk of flooding. Members of the Working Group felt that the lack of participation by these interest groups was because the 1958 flood was widely thought to be a one-off event and most residents in the affected area did not remember it. These interest groups also appear to rely on warning systems more than on other forms of pre-event planning. In summary, members of the Working Group thought that the Group functioned well during the community response planning process and it continues to meet annually to review the plan.

Plan Development: The Working Group proposed that the plan be developed in stages after the first community meeting. It soon became apparent that participants had different ideas about what should be included in the plan. It was crucial to ensure that participants articulated their concerns and ideas and contributed to the development of the plan, but also that the plan remained focused on building community response capacity and ultimately resilience. In addition, the allocation of financial, human and other resources for developing and implementing the Kaitaia plan ultimately needed to be consistent with and supported by the regional Group Plan. It was agreed that the plan should focus on four main areas:

A series of workshops and review meetings were held to update the Working Group on progress made with the development of the plan and to get feedback, comments and changes as the plan progressed. The Working Group considered comments and recommendations and integrated them into the plan. It was able to furnish reasons for not including some suggestions in the plan.

Plan Approval: On completion of the final draft copy, the plan was reviewed by the Group Emergency Management Officer and the Consultant to finalise its content and coordinated release to the community. A second public meeting was held in Kaitaia in January 2007 that was attended by the wider community and interested parties. Minor amendments were made to the plan following this meeting to reflect feedback on the draft plan.

Plan Activation: The plan was completed and in place prior to the March 2007 event. It was used as a reference document in case the situation escalated. The plan was not activated because although there was flooding in some areas of the town there was no threat to life and evacuation was not warranted. By contrast, evacuations were necessary in July 2007 because flooding posed a very real threat to the lives of some Kaitaia residents. A series of low pressure systems with intense rainfall stalled over the entire Northland Region in July, causing widespread flooding and isolating many communities. The Met Service provided 48 hours warning of the event which was a combination of heavy rain and gale force winds. Civil defence organisations in Northland were actively involved in this event due to widespread flooding and the loss of utilities in each of their respective areas of responsibility. Kaitaia was one of the many communities that was affected by rapidly rising river levels. As identified during the planning process, the community became isolated due to severe flooding of all the State highways and access routes into the town (see Figure 2). All lifeline utilities were affected with the loss of communications, water supplies and power networks into the community. The Kaitaia Community Response Plan was activated by the Emergency Services due to the necessity to evacuate residents, mainly the elderly and infirm from a rest home and pensioner flats, from the inundated areas. A local State of Civil Defence Emergency was formally declared by the Far North District Council to assist the Emergency Services in carrying out their responsibilities and to facilitate the activation of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan.

Post-event reflection and debriefing confirmed that the pre-event Community Response Planning process greatly assisted the Emergency Services and the community to successfully respond to the flooding without external assistance and to take actions to save the lives of the local residents. According to one of the Far North District Council Councillor’s who was actively involved in the Fire Service and the Kaitaia response, "I am absolutely convinced beyond any doubt that if this community had not carried out this type of pre-planning, and we did not have a Community Response Plan in place, we would have lost lives that night" (Anon., 2008).

Plan Review: In developing the Kaitaia Community Response Plan it was agreed that the plan should be reviewed on an annual basis, or after an activation, to consider any amendments that might improve the plan. Such a plan review ensures that the plan is kept up to date and helps to ensure continued preparedness and community support. The post-July 2007 storm event review considered:

Post-activation debriefings revealed that there were no significant gaps in or problems with the plan. It was, however, felt that there was room for improving understanding about the roles and responsibilities of different agencies. In addition, it was felt that the plan layout could be revised to be more ‘user friendly’ with quick access to key information. The plan was subsequently updated by the Working Group to address the concerns raised and to ensure that all information was accurate. The plan was then redistributed to the community.

Lessons Learned

The emergency management team in Northland has learned valuable lessons based on more than two years of community engagement, community-based planning, and the activation of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan in particular. These are discussed below in relation to the guiding principles for collaborative community endeavours outlined previously.

At all times during the planning process the community should be encouraged to take ownership of the process and the resulting plan. They should be supported, guided and encouraged by an independent facilitator but their ideas, suggestions and input should form the basis of the plan. Developing ownership will help the community become self-reliant and enable it to play a significant role in planning for and responding to an emergency. A community owned response plan thus needs to be purpose driven: Kaitaia residents clearly recognised the value of and need to build their capacity to deal with hazard events. Moreover, community ownership requires an inclusive planning process so that all interested and affected parties can contribute to the process. However, participation needs to be voluntary if the ultimate goal is achieve authentic community ownership.

Flexibility and self-design
The process of community engagement needs to be flexible as each community has different characteristics and priorities. During any planning with the community it is important that the facilitator is flexible and can adapt the approach to suit the community and its needs. Each community is different and the process that is adopted to formulate a plan needs to be tailored to ensure that the outcome reflects the distinctive needs and concerns of each community – hence the importance of self-design.

Create a level playing field
Everyone attending the planning meetings should be treated as an equal and their comments, feedback and suggestions should be treated the same. In other words, equal opportunity to participate is vital. This is important because it ensures that everyone feels that their contribution is valued. The facilitator should focus on the expressed needs of community members as opposed to having preconceived ideas about what might or might not be relevant. In essence, respect for diverse interests is crucial for building trust and securing buy-in. People feel more comfortable and interested in participating if they know that their concerns and queries are being taken seriously.

Let the Community lead

The goal of the CDEM sector is to build community resilience through coordination and support. Consequently, CDEM professionals need to work with communities as enablers and facilitators. The community should be encouraged and enabled to develop CDEM-related plans in the manner that they deem appropriate. ‘Standing back’ is not always the easiest thing to do, especially when the community want to go in a direction that is not necessarily a path that the facilitator would have gone down if this was their own plan. However, provided the community remains focused on building resilience, encouraging community accountability ultimately reinforces the fact that ‘they own the plan’ and the plan will become something that they will trust and use in the future. As time goes by, the facilitation role of CDEM professionals may diminish as the community works together to tackle issues and come up with solutions.

Build trust

In order to build trust with the community the facilitator needs to be completely honest with them, i.e., the facilitator is accountable to the community. Being open, honest and giving ‘voice’ to community concerns will foster a level of trust that will make the planning process easier over time.

Keep it Simple
It is important to ‘keep things simple’ because the CDEM environment can be complex and difficult to understand. It is easy for community members to make assumptions and develop false expectations about the role of the CDEM sector in the aftermath of an event. It is important to ensure that the community understands that outside assistance may be several days away and that community members are responsible for their own immediate response. ‘Keep it simple’ also applies to the way in which the plan is written. The community may only want a plan that is a few pages long or one that is made up mainly of maps, contact details and lists of equipment and facilities. Plans therefore need to be written in such a way that community needs are prioritised and so that the plan can be easily understood and used by all community members.

Local Examples
It is helpful to include local examples of previous events or examples from neighbouring areas in the course of the planning process. Letting people share their own personal experiences at meetings can also be a constructive way of making the hazard information real to the community. Grounding the planning process in local reality reinforces the fact that this is a ‘local Community Response Plan’. Ensuring that the plan is locally focused and community owned offers the best prospect for effective implementation. Moreover, given changing circumstances, particular attention needs to be focused on ongoing review and adaptation to changing local circumstances.

The process of planning is more important than the plan
The discussion, debate, solution finding and documentation process that the community goes through is more important than the resulting plan. The knowledge that is gained and the networking that occurs during the planning process have long-term benefits for the community and help to build resilience. To ensure a practical outcome, however, it is important to have time limits on the process. But these limits should be agreed to by participants. People come and go throughout the planning process and while they may not stay for the whole time they often take away enough knowledge about the plan and the issues to be of benefit when the community experiences an emergency. Anyone who is interested should be encouraged to participate, even if they join halfway through the process. The Working Group approach was very successful in getting many people actively involved in the practical task of developing the Community Response Plan in Kaitaia. Experience has shown that as the message about what the Working Group is doing spreads through the community more people will become interested in getting involved so that the Working Group may grow as time progresses. Ultimately, community engagement, making contacts, and building trust is a slow process. People have to be ready to participate and will engage only when they are ready to do so.


A resilient community is well informed about the hazards that they face and the consequences of these hazards. They have ownership over local hazard risks and their planned response to them. They are self-determining and prepared to manage and learn from the demands and challenges encountered during an emergency. In order to increase local resilience, community members need to participate actively in deciding what levels of risk they consider acceptable and what measures are put in place to manage those risks. In so doing, communities will be able to begin to address the underlying drivers and root causes of their vulnerability to hazard events. CDEM practitioners and others involved in planning for emergency events are therefore encouraged to consider community-based planning as a valuable tool to promote community resilience and individual preparedness. The process can take some time but the ongoing benefits, both for the community and for the local and regional authorities, far outweigh the costs. As we engage with communities in developing their own response and recovery plans, and involve them with risk reduction and readiness activities, we are enabling them to determine their own responses and path to community resilience.


The authors would like to acknowledge the vital role played by members of the Reference Group of the Kaitaia Community Response Plan, as well as the sponsor of the plan, namely the Northland CDEM Group. Bruce Glavovic would like to gratefully acknowledge the support of the Earthquake Commission to undertake this research.


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Antoinette Mitchell, Bruce C. Glavovic, Bill Hutchinson, Graeme MacDonald, Melanie Roberts & Jim Goodland © 2010. The authors assign to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.

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