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Source: Environment Canterbury Regional Council

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has centred around one of our core organisational values: manaakitanga/people first.

Like the rest of New Zealand and the world, we have experienced a period of sustained disruption.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis like no other – its impacts are far-reaching, causing uncertainty for many people.

Manaakitanga/people first

As an organisation, we are well-positioned to respond and adapt in a crisis due to the experience of several emergency events in recent years. 

The first priority of our response effort was manaakitanga/putting people first – customers, communities and staff – ensuring services were maintained as close to normal as possible.

We quickly adapted to deliver business while responding to COVID-19 – in both cases putting Canterbury communities at the centre of our work.

This included delivery of priority services such as the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM), Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC), and other essential services including public transport, maritime navigation safety, incident/pollution response and flood protection.

The Council is working to ensure it is well-positioned to support the post-COVID-19 recovery efforts and continue with important projects that contribute to the economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the Canterbury region.

Our response

Crisis Management Team

Our response progressed swiftly – starting with the establishment of a Watch Group in late February which evolved to a Crisis Management Team by late March, operating under a coordinated incident management system (CIMS).

The purpose of the Crisis Management Team (CMT) was to coordinate our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and manage the impacts on the organisation.

Key objectives were enabling the organisation to deliver priority and essential services while balancing usual organisational activities and supporting staff to manage their health and wellbeing.

During Alert Level 4, the CMT facilitated continued delivery of regional council essential services such as public transport and incident/pollution response.

The CMT worked with the COVID-19 Local Government Response Unit, established by the Department of Internal Affairs, to determine which services were considered essential, and how these could be performed safely.

A similar process was followed again at Alert Level 3, further expanding the list of safe services the Council could perform.

At Alert Level 2, all regional council functions resumed with strict health and safety measures in place in accordance with Government guidelines.

Online council meetings

Our Councillors also adapted quickly, carrying on with minimal disruption to Council business during lockdown.

Formal Council meetings were able to continue thanks to emergency legislation passed by the Government that allowed Councillors attending virtually to make up a quorum.

There were some delays and rescheduling of meetings, most went ahead, including Councillor briefings with staff and even public hearings for the Draft 2020/21 Annual Plan – all held online.

However, all water management zone committee meetings were postponed, and many other planned meetings have had to be rescheduled.

As a result of the crisis, Councillors have increased their participation in the work of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, working with territorial authorities on regional recovery.

Working remotely

A highlight of the response, thanks to the swift actions of the Business Information Services team, was the organisation’s transition to operating virtually.

Every staff member had the ability to remotely access our network before the Alert Level 4 lockdown began, enabling staff who were able (the vast majority) to do productive work from home.

Establishing this remote access ability for all staff was a significant achievement that proved critical to maintaining business continuity.

Staff welfare

An important aspect of the organisation’s response was staff welfare.

As a dedicated function within the CMT, the Welfare team has done an excellent job of supporting staff (as reported by staff) throughout its COVID-19 response.

For example, as priorities shifted during lockdown and some tasks were put on hold, considerable effort was made to ensure those impacted were re-assigned, providing a sense of purpose while also maintaining productivity.

At the other end of the spectrum, support was offered to staff experiencing hardship as a result of COVID-19, including increased flexibility in working hours and the provision of COVID-19-related special leave.

Notably, only 6% of staff time was impacted by restricted duties or COVID-19-related special leave during the first four weeks of Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Many staff experienced increased workloads responding to COVID-19, particularly in the essential services areas, and many staff reported that they benefitted from improved productivity with the flexibility of working from home.

Civil Defence Emergency Management

The Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group is a regional council function that operates as its own entity.

Our CDEM staff are among the most experienced emergency responders in the country.

The Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) was quickly activated to support the nationally-led response and to coordinate the numerous agencies providing support across Canterbury.

Welfare support

The Canterbury CDEM Group played a vital role in providing welfare support for Cantabrians affected by COVID-19.

A regional 0800 help line was established in partnership with all Canterbury territorial authorities, to provide support for Cantabrians with critical welfare needs such as providing food parcels for those unable to access essential supplies themselves.

Staff on the front line

In addition to the 10 dedicated CDEM staff, a further 20 staff supported the response, working across all incident management functions including welfare, intelligence, planning, public information management, logistics and operations.

The ECC led the coordination for the isolation and quarantine process for passengers arriving into Christchurch, working closely with the New Zealand Defence Force, Canterbury District Health Board, Police, Christchurch Airport and several hotels.

Staff were on the frontline at Christchurch Airport arranging buses and hotels for Kiwis entering mandatory isolation or quarantine following repatriation flights.

Care was taken right down to the last detail, including providing donated toys to children in isolation.

Impacts on work programmes

While lockdown prevented delivery of on the ground services, most staff were able to maintain near normal productivity while working from home, progressing strategic and operational planning, developing internal assets such as process maps, preparing work plans and resources ready for when restrictions eased, processing consent applications and answering customer enquiries by phone or email.

Despite this work ongoing, the lockdown period and subsequent restrictions have impacted our work programme for 2019/20.

  • Most regional and zone delivery work was impacted for seven weeks, resulting in setbacks in biodiversity and biosecurity programmes, environmental monitoring, and compliance monitoring and enforcement programmes.
  • There were major changes to public transport delivery, providing an essential service with reduced patronage.
  • All non-essential flood protection and drainage work ceased and only works that were essential to protect life, homes and critical infrastructure were maintained.
  • Support and engagement projects with community groups were delayed and community collaboration processes planned for March and April did not progress on time.
  • Plan Change 7 (PC7) to the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) has also been delayed.

However overall, there was increased activity during the COVID-19 response, and our staff and Councillors have experienced the benefits of remote-working technology and increased productivity during this time that will no doubt see us emerge more agile than ever.

MIL OSI