Lessons from the recent storm

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The past week has been a difficult time for the West.

A significant storm event has caused consternation to the west’s supply of power and major disruption to the day to day lives of westies.

Now that things are settling down it is time to review what happened and what needs to be done to lessen the disruption that will be caused by the next significant storm event.

Because it is clear that with climate change and particularly the increase in temperature in the waters surrounding New Zealand the frequency and intensity of these sorts of storm events are going to increase, not decrease.

First to the storm itself. Russell Brown at Public News has asked some very pertinent questions, the main one being why did a category two storm event cause the sort of damage anticipated by a category one four storm event. And the associated question is what sort of carnage would a really big storm event cause? Over the past few years I have seen a few sub tropical cyclones skirt around Auckland. What would happen if one hit the super city head on?

From Russell’s post:

If we regard last Tuesday a stress-test for infrastructure ahead of the super-storm assessed as Auckland’s main disaster risk, the city has not done well.

Indeed, we’ve likely done worse than anyone expected. Last week’s storm was not an ex-tropical cyclone, but at its worst it was said to be the equivalent of a Category 2 cyclone. According to the relevant page in the Emergency Management section of Auckland Council’s website, a Category 2 storm would be expected to bring the “risk of power failure”. A Category 3 storm would make power failure “likely”, while a Category 4 storm, with winds of 225 to 279km/h, would cause “widespread” power failure. At one point last week, 180,000 homes, representing more than half of retail electricity customers in Auckland, lost service. That seems quite “widespread”.

And so much of the power outages seemed to be concentrated out west. The coastal villages, including Piha, Karekare and Te Henga Bethells were all lacking in power for extended periods of time. Piha’s power was only restored last Saturday, thankfully ahead of the predicted time which was later this week. Te Henga Bethells is still struggling to gain power. There are still lots of pockets of households without power because of individual supply problems. Almost a week after the storm event.

Vector claimed after a couple of days that only 10% of households were still without power. My very strong impression is that many, far too many, of these households were out west.

So what do we do so that we are better prepared next time?

There has to be a big question as to the resilience of the network. In my home suburb of Titirangi houses were without power for days on end. I appreciate that the coastal villages posed extra difficulty but Titirangi should not have been that difficult a fix.

Undergrounding of power supply has to be a priority. But there does not appear to be the resources to do this.

And for the coastal villages such as Piha localised power should be given serious consideration. With enough solar panels and a wind turbine or two combined with an intelligent localised network it could become self sufficient in power and show the rest of the country how it is done. Great Barrier Island Aotea relies on solar power and generators. Maybe Piha should think about doing the same.

Vector’s information supply was frankly woeful. The phone App is a great idea but the data it was supplying did not reflect my on the ground experience. The data should be seamless. The App should be showing Vector’s synopsis of its own data. Clearly things needs to change things if this is the case.

The community response was magnificent. Local fire brigades did what they could to make sure that locals had somewhere to go to for basics such as a wash or a toilet stop. Local community groups and individuals volunteered the use of the resources that they had. Council officers volunteered their time to go door to door in some areas to check that each household was ok.

The local community facebook pages performed a good job in disseminating information. Bethells Te Henga’s Bukino Faso quality communications infrastructure needs a rethink because in times of crisis reliable communications channels are vital.

Council’s response will need to be reviewed. I had the benefit of regular information updates which I then posted on social media. But we will need to check to make sure this is sufficient.

Nearly 250 portaloos were delivered and 20,000 litres of water were also distributed to those in need. If this was enough and did it happen quickly enough will need to be considered.

Just remember this was a category two storm. It clearly shows that the region’s resilience and ability to withstand and recover from a category one four storm is lacking.

We need to review what has happened. And make sure that next time we can do better.

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Comments

  1. Erin Hales says:

    I belive parts of Piha and Karekare are still dark. Glen Esk, North Piha, parts of Garden Road and Lone Kauri were reported still without power this morning with hopes of a restoration by 10pm tonight.

  2. Mark Gosling says:

    I think you have your categories of storm round the wrong way, according to Russell a category 4 is stronger and would expect more damage than a one or two

    1. Greg Presland says:

      You are right. I meant to say “four”. I have corrected.

  3. ceinwen says:

    vector’s app is useless for areas without cell cover, te henga for instance.
    they used to have a recorded message immediately on calling the fault line with area outages but that’s been done away with.
    huge case for cell mast after the landline also went down.
    spark’s response to my logging a fault on 13/4 was that they would prioritise the issue to 17/4 @ 0700 !

    1. Julie says:

      It’s hard to imagine how Vector can even consider the failure of their app as an “Act of God”. Someone commissioned it, someone designed it, built it, someone at vector signed off on it as being fit for purpose, Vector instructed callers to check the app (after a 20 minute drive to do so) Most of us would have been able to relocate our freezer contents and perishables to the freezers of family and friends who had power. The Vector app time frames mislead us into believing the power would be restored in time to save freezer contents. The FACT the all the Vector app did was provide false and misleading information needs to be the subject of investigation and compensation. Or, are they suggesting – in the future (an there will be such future events) – we completely ignore the Vector app?
      In business – the most important thing a company can have is TRUST. Vector management have abused this trust. Time to give the lines contract to a government owned company and fark Vector!
      p.s. Have you noticed Vectors share price has increased as a result of this disaster? Are they expecting a council / govt bailout?

  4. Heather Tanguay says:

    Your idea about small communities being self sufficient with wind and solar is a very good idea Greg. This has happened even at Scott Base.
    With the hills behind the coastal communities, it would be an ideal place to host a wind turbine and power running directly to these small communities.
    These storms will happen again, they are not going to stop.
    Fire stations, camping ground, council facilities and sports clubs have responded well, this could have happened quicker and a posted on going updated help was good, it should have started earlier.
    The whole question of tree pruning and who has that responsibility is vital, this must be urgent.
    I would like to see a local West coast coordinated community response group meet, to look at how this storm impacted the West and how together they can plan for the next significant weather event.

  5. Ross Forbes says:

    I hope there is not a knee jerk reaction to the community anger by Vector that cuts down swathes of bush adjacent to the powerlines.They do not need to clear fell bush. Also in all this what happened to biosecurity around Kauri.? I can’t imagine that the Vector crews soaked their boots in trigene prior to going into the bush. It seems that when our lifestyle is threatened the first thing to go out the window are environmental concerns.

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