Learnings: Christchurch Migrant Inter-Agency Group

- lessons learned following the earthquakes of 22 February 2011

Christchurch suffered a major earthquake in 2011. Northern Canterbury, particularly Kaikoura, did so on November 14. Five years back, several - more than 60 - agencies and migrant associations got involved and guaged whether the City's earthquake response was adequate. Some key learnings were presented as a result. We present some excerpts from that Report. Question is, have we learnt something from the past?   

  • Having existing strong relationships, good information and networks was the all important factor enabling a coordinated and effective response for CALD communities in Christchurch (ie the Migrant Inter-Agency Group quickly emerged as a result of the prior working relationships and strong collaboration between agencies in Christchurch).

  • Having strong leadership is vital – swift decisions must be made and if there is trust in the leadership and ‘those at the top’, there is more likelihood of composure and compliance and less likelihood of dissension and chaos, particularly with respect to vulnerable groups such as refugees and migrants.

  • The influence of the media can be enormous at any time but particularly at times of crisis and in relation to those audiences least able to interpret and weigh up the relative importance of information – the influence and cost of Ken Ring’s predictions (and the role of the media in ratcheting this up) were significant with respect to the refugee and migrant population of Christchurch.

  • Volunteers are essential in any emergency situation however their role needs to be managed. Ideally agencies would have access to previously trained volunteers which would help to avoid some of the mishaps seen in Christchurch. This needs to be considered by key agencies in terms of future planning.

  • Any future disaster planning should emphasise the critical need for accountability and record-keeping, particularly with respect to the evacuation of residents from a crisis situation.

  • Do not rely solely on computer based communications in a civil emergency as it is likely that disruptions to power supply and other factors will make these messages inaccessible for many.

  • Any communications planning for future natural disasters should involve multi-faceted tools and delivery mechanisms / distribution channels to ensure maximum reach.

  • Residents from non-English speaking backgrounds did not have equitable access to vital official communication in relation to the earthquake and aftermath.

  • Accurate interpretation of the official messages is vital. New Zealand is now a multi-cultural society, with all that this implies. Clear responsibility should be assigned for overseeing official communications at times of crisis to ensure that all New Zealand residents have access to essential messages and information.

  • Appropriate language level, availability in different languages, message distribution channels and access to interpreters are all vital with respect to communicating with CALD communities.

  • A key component / message delivery mechanism of any communications strategy during a crisis must be community radio, as this is a very effective medium for reaching members of CALD communities.

  • Clear national guidelines are required to ensure that vital public information messages reach CALD communities at times of disaster (note CLING has developed some guidelines for Christchurch which could have broader use).

  • Having structures in place immediately (ie in this case, the Migrant Inter-Agency Group based at the marae) to identify cultural barriers and solutions is crucial if CALD communities are to receive adequate support.

  • The New Zealand Police has a fantastic resource in its Ethnic Liaison officers. Their work on the streets of Christchurch, their links with migrant communities and their status within the wider community meant they were well placed to convey information and to deal with a range of issues. The role that these officers played following the earthquake was absolutely vital, especially with respect to new migrants and the international student community (and families).

  • A number of responsibilities fall to ethnic associations and leaders, with respect to their communities. It is important that they are equipped to deal with these and that they have strong links with relevant agencies and others, to promote efficiencies and to ensure that correct information is communicated as widely as possible. In some cases they were the only real point of contact for refugee and migrant residents.

Readers can access the full report here https://quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz/store/object/21303