Concerns Raised About Cooks Disaster Communication Plan

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Confusion over who informs who seen as serious loophole

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 23, 2015) – Government officials are concerned there are serious loopholes in the natural disaster communication plan should a cyclone head for the Cook Islands this season.

Emergency Management Cook Islands Director Charles Carlson led a meeting at the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) in the Bluesky building yesterday morning, attended by head of government departments and Puna coordinators on Rarotonga, as well as the Cook Islands Red Cross and the New Zealand High Commission.

The meeting aimed to help each government agency identify where they fit within the Disaster Risk Management cycle, from prevention through to recovery.

But what came out most strongly at the meeting was government officials’ concerns over the grey area of who tells who what is going on.

Currently in the case of a cyclone or natural disaster, the emergency operation centre will be set up and headed by Carlson and Police Commissioner Maara Tetava.

The Cook Islands Meteorological Service is charged with providing forecast information to these leaders, but it is unclear who is supposed to alert the various government departments so they can shut down.

Acting Public Service Commissioner Daphne Rangi said they would need to be alerted to be able to close down all the government schools.

Financial Secretary Garth Henderson said it was a complex arrangement with which the people involved needed to become more familiar.

"I’m a bit concerned," he said.

Others mentioned a "disastrous" lack of communication at the simulated aircraft crash at Rarotonga Airport recently.

Carlson admitted there were loopholes in current procedures, the Disaster Risk Management Act 2007 and the Disaster Risk Management Arrangement Plan 2009.

"A lot has happened since 2007- 2009 which highlighted gaps in our plan and legislation.

"So there will be a more thorough workshop on these issues at a later date, but meanwhile, we need to get this lean and mean machine ready for action if required."

More power needed to be given to the Cook Islands Meteorological Service so they could communicate with government departments directly, he said.

The Cook Islands Police Service was not represented at the meeting.

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