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Students keep civil defence on its toes

Oct 21st, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Conference 1

MINISTER SAYS THANKS: Above – Video from Parliament of Civil Defence Minister John Carter thanking Whitireia Journalism School for participating in the tsunami exercise.

BLEARY-eyed Whitireia journalism students turned up at civil defence headquarters beneath the Beehive early yesterday morning to take part in Exercise Tangaroa.

The day-long exercise tested how the national emergency centre and about 100 nationwide disaster response agencies responded to an imminent tsunami disaster.

Students played roles as television and radio reporters located in the CD “bunker”, as well as providing an up-to-the-minute news service website from the J School’s newsroom in Cuba St.

The event started at 5am when the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a “warning” of an imminent tsunami.

An earthquake had been reported off the coast of Peru, and it was likely to produce a tsunami that would hit New Zealand within 12 to14 hours.

The East Cape and the Chatham Islands were expected to be worst-hit.

Various disaster scenarios were worked on by nearly 40 students and tutors in two locations throughout the day, both inside the bunker and at the school newsroom.

Focus was about getting quick and accurate information, with reports ranging from the technical strength of the quake and tsunami to teenage boys supposedly arrested in Whakatane trying to surf surges at the river mouth.

Senior civil defence officials, including the minister, John Carter, director John Hamilton, and national controller David Coetzee, were interviewed by students for TV, radio stations and web newsites.

The Whitireia newsroom produced 158 stories throughout the day, all posted on a special version of NewsWire that was closed to the public.

Or so the journalism school thought. In fact, CD put the NewsWire web address on its own website and at least one real news outlet made inquiries about a student story revealing a minor mishap during the exercise.

Civil defence exercise directors Jo Guard and Tane Woodley both agree it was a very useful day.

“It was 10 months’ work in planning, and it was executed in the way we hoped up and down the country,” says Mr Woodley.

Ms Guard says they are already thinking about the next one: “We want to build on this one to think about a scenario where the wave has hit and what to do next.”

There were actual tsunami evacuation practices around the city yesterday, with Wellington City Council vehicles carrying sirens and loudspeakers broadcasting test alerts.

Owhiro Bay School pupils took part in an evacuation event, visiting the emergency welfare centre based in Newtown’s Pacific Island Presbyterian Church.

An event called Exercise Pacific Wave is planned for 2011 and will involve 32 countries.

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