Context for the Use of Emergency Powers

In an emergency or disaster scenario, local and central government, emergency services and other community organisations carry many responsibilities. The duties and obligations of emergency services and civil defence groups are largely contained within their respective governing enactments.

However, there are some overlaps in terms of the roles of the various bodies that assist in preventing, mitigating and remedying disaster events. An emergency situation under the RMA may also qualify for emergency intervention under other legislation.

There are three phases to any emergency:

  1. The pre-emergency ('risk reduction') phase. In this phase the obligations for emergency works rest largely with local and central government, network utility operators, lifeline utilities and other bodies in charge of public works. The imperative is to undertake the necessary works to prevent an emergency or dangerous situation from arising. As time pressures are less significant during this phase, more extensive consultation can take place on the options available. It will be rare for this phase to fall within the scope of the emergency powers under s330 of the RMA.

  2. The second phase is during the emergency situation (often referred to as the 'response phase'). If widespread, a state of 'national emergency' or 'local emergency' will be declared. During this phase, time pressures will be at their greatest and the use of powers under s330 of the RMA will be more justifiable. The emphasis will be to remove the on-going causes and prevent further damage of the emergency on people and property.

  3. The third phase is the post-emergency clean-up and recovery period. This will be dealt with by various persons, including the Recovery Coordinator under the Civil Defence and Emergency Act, governmental bodies, and other responsible bodies. In this situation, time frames may be less restricted and therefore the usual resource consent procedures could be complied with..

These phases form three of the 'four Rs' of emergency risk management; the fourth R is readiness: the development of systems and capabilities before an emergency happens.

The emergency works provisions of the RMA are primarily aimed at assisting the response to emergency situations.

A civil defence response will not always be the most appropriate response to emergency situations. For example, most chemical spills are not of such a scale as to justify civil defence measures. It is generally only in the worst-case scenarios that the ability to exercise powers and make emergency regulations (e.g. declaring a civil defence emergency) under the Civil Defence and Emergency Act 2002 will be required.

It is important to consider how local authority and civil defence personnel will work together in a state of emergency. Civil defence personnel may not have the necessary expertise to deal with specific pollution and hazardous substances incidents. However, civil defence personnel would still be concerned with the impact of the emergency on the public (for example rescue, handling of casualties, transportation, providing supplies, communication and information). Where available, specialist emergency service staff are likely to tackle the actual hazard. Particularly in smaller centres and in rural locations, this role may fall on council staff, the Police and emergency service workers.