Introduction to natural hazards and framework for management

Terms and definitions

Natural hazard management in New Zealand is underpinned by key concepts, terms and definitions. It is important to use the correct terms and definitions when referring to natural hazards to aid clarity and simplicity in understanding.

Where possible, use terms and definitions from key legislation and ensure that there is consistency between policy documents in how hazards are referred to.

Policy documents should provide a definition of a 'natural hazard'. The term is defined in the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991 and Building Act 2004, while the CDEM Act defines hazards more generally. The definitions do differ somewhat due to the context in which they apply to. As such, the one you use is dependent on the type of plan or strategy being developed and the legislation it was developed under.

The ISO Guide 73: 2009, Risk Management – Vocabulary provides a collection of terms and definitions relating to the management of risk.

A glossary of key terms used in this guidance note is located at the end of this guidance note.

Adopting a 4 'Rs' approach

A key concept of the CDEM Act is applying the '4 Rs' (Reduction, Readiness, Response, Recovery) to hazard management. Reduction aims to mitigate or avoid the risks of hazards, readiness to minimise potential impacts from an event through preparedness steps, and response and recovery to address the impacts in an event including any escalation of them. Each 'R' is related to, and overlaps with, the others. For example, recovery can begin alongside response; and reduction measures can be part of recovery activities. RMA planning generally (but not exclusively) falls under ‛reduction'. Reduction approaches are the primary focus of this guidance note, however, it is acknowledged that the recovery process can provide opportunities for building community resilience that may include RMA processes.

The legal framework for natural hazard management in New Zealand

Local Government Act 2002

The Local Government Act 2002 provides the general framework, obligations, restrictions and powers under which local authorities operate.

The key sections of the Act are:

Section 10

(1) The purpose of local government is—

(a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and

(b) to meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.

Section 11A

In performing its role, a local authority must have particular regard to the contribution that the following core services make to its communities:

(a)network infrastructure:

(b)public transport services:

(c)solid waste collection and disposal:

(d)the avoidance or mitigation of natural hazards:

(e)libraries, museums, reserves, recreational facilities, and other community infrastructure.

Section 145

Gives local authorities the power to make bylaws, including for the purpose of protecting, promoting, and maintaining public health and safety.

Section 163

Specifies powers in relation to the removal of works in breach of bylaws.

Sections 93-97

Provide for Long Term Plans that describe the activities of local authorities. This can include descriptions of local authority activities as well as the management of natural hazards.

Instruments of the Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002

The CDEM Act aims at the comprehensive management of hazards and risks, and emergency response and recovery, through coordinated and integrated policy, planning and decision-making processes at the national and local level. It sets out the duties, functions and powers of central government, local government, emergency services, lifeline utilities and the general public.

The Act is administered by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

The key instruments established by the CDEM Act include:

Building Act 2004

The Building Act 2004 provides for the regulation of building work, the licensing regime for building practitioners, and the setting of performance standards for buildings. It manages natural hazards in relation to the construction and modification of buildings.

Also relevant are the Building Regulations 1992 (including the Building Code) and Building (Specified Systems, Change the Use, Earthquake-Prone Buildings) Regulations 2005.

The key sections of the Act are:

Section 35

Content of project information memoranda

Section 37

Additional certificates that must be attached to project information memoranda

Section 71

Building on land subject to hazards. Includes a definition of natural hazard

Section 72

Building consents for building on land subject to natural hazards must be granted in certain cases

Section 73

Conditions on building consents granted under section 72

Local Government and Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

The Local Government and Official Information and Meetings Act provides for the public availability of official information held by local authorities, and to promote the open and public transaction of businesses at local authority meetings. Section 44A provides for land information memorandum (LIM) and includes the matters which must be included in a LIM.

Other relevant legislation

  • Environment Act 1986: sets out the function of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (s16) and Ministry for the Environment (s31), including obligations in the management of natural hazards (s17 and s32).     
  • Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941: makes provision for the conservation of soil resources, the prevention of damage by erosion and aims to make better provision for the protection of property from damage by floods.
  • Land Drainage Act 1908: establishes drainage districts and boards and powers of local authorities relating to watercourses and drains.
  • Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977: provides for the safeguarding of life and property related to fire in forests and rural areas.
  • Earthquake Commission Act 1993: makes provision with respect to the insurance of residential property against damage caused by certain natural disasters.
  • Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011: to facilitate the recovery of Canterbury following the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Also see the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) website for a full list of legislation relating to the earthquakes.

Roles and responsibilities for natural hazards management

No one agency is responsible for natural hazard management in New Zealand. Rather, natural hazard management responsibilities extend to a wide range of organisations. However, local authorities play a pivotal role at the local community level.

Natural Hazards: Roles and Responsibilities

Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM)

To support the functions of the Director of CDEM in overseeing that arrangements are in place nationally to manage hazards across the 4Rs in the event of a civil defence emergency. This involves promoting for, advising on and monitoring the integration and coordination of policies, planning, procedures and resources across agencies at both the national and local levels (CDEM Act 2002).

Regional councils

Control the use of land for the purpose of the avoidance or mitigation of natural hazards (s30 RMA 1991). Section 62(1)(i) of the RMA requires a regional policy statement to specify objectives, policies and methods relating to the avoidance and mitigation of natural hazards. In accordance with s62(2) of the RMA, if a regional council does not set out responsibilities for functions relating to natural hazards, then the regional council retains the primary responsibility.

Territorial authorities

Control the effects of the use of land for the avoidance or mitigation of natural hazards (s31 RMA 1991). Territorial authorities are also given the authority to control subdivision under s31(2) and have discretion under 106 to refuse a subdivision consent where the land is subject to hazards, or the subsequent use of the land will exacerbate the hazard.

Emergency management officers

Carry out specific initiatives and ensure that procedures are in place at the local level for hazard and emergency management (CDEM Act 2002).

Civil Defence and Emergency Management Groups

Based on regional boundaries, they comprise representatives from local councils, emergency services, health boards and other organisations that are involved with emergency management (see figure below) (s12-24 CDEM Act 2002).

Engineering Lifelines Groups

A voluntary group of organisations with representatives from territorial authorities and major utility and transportation sector organisations. These voluntary organisations support their members in meeting their obligations with respect to networks providing the basic necessities of life and services essential to limiting the extent of an emergency. Engineering lifeline groups are co-ordinated at the national level by the National Lifeline Engineering Committee.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority

The agency leading and coordinating the ongoing recovery effort following the devastating earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011.

The following diagram from the Guide to the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan shows how the various organisations work together.

Activities for emergency readiness, response and recovery activities

Activities for emergency readiness response and recovery activities

The diagram above shows the various groups involved in emergency readiness, response and recovery activities. Group participants are shown in a box on the left-hand side, CDEM organisations in the centre, and the contents of the CDEM Plan are set out on the right-hand side. Arrows show how these various components interact.

Natural hazard management activities undertaken by regional and territorial authorities

Regional councils (hazard identification)

Territorial authorities (hazard management)

Assess hazards of regional-level significance

Providing direction through provisions in regional plans

Implement, maintain and monitor warning systems

Conduct research into hazard threats

Provide education and information

Provide information on site-specific and localised natural hazards

Undertake works and services at a regional level (e.g. stopbank repair)

Maintain a 'regional natural hazards register'

Administer and update group civil defence emergency management plans

Assess hazard risks of district-level significance

Control the location of, or requirements for, engineering or other solutions for development in hazard-prone areas through provisions in district plans

Undertake works and services at the district level (e.g. hazard mitigation works)

Provide education and information

Provide information on site-specific and localised natural hazards

Control development and activities in hazard-prone areas through their district plans and resource consents

Prepare hazard management plans (e.g. flood management plans, contingency plans)

Control stormwater discharges (through involvement in land-use planning and the control of building development)

Ensure infrastructure is sited and designed to cope with hazards events (e.g.through asset management plans and provisions in district plans)

Maintain a 'district natural hazards register'


Relationships between key legislation for the land use management of natural hazards

relationships between key legislation for the land use management of natural hazards

The figure above shows the relationship between the key pieces of legislation for the management of natural hazards in New Zealand. Each piece of legislation is represented by a box linked by arrows to other relevant legislation. The coordination role of the regional policy statement is clearly evident. In this diagram the regional policy statement draws on the long term plan (itself derived from inputs as diverse as Local Government Act processes and the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act), national policy statements and standards, and Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Plans (the latter being influenced by the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Strategy and National Civil Defence and Emergency Plan).