During the extreme weather event of the 14–16th, heavy rain on both sides of the ranges led to the Manawatu River overtopping its banks.
In the Whanganui–Manawatu area of New Zealand’s North Island, four bridges were destroyed and 21 were seriously damaged, several showing signs that masses of trees and other debris, mainly from river bank collapses, had lodged against piers, contributing to their failure. Major highways were blocked, the Manawatu Gorge road was closed for some considerable time and a total of 2,500 people were displaced from their homes by the storms and flooding.
Along with the mayhem caused by the rain and floods, significant damage was caused by the strong winds, with 230 km/h (143mph) gusts recorded in the Tararua Ranges. This was the most severe storm since May 1992 in Wellington and the most severe for February since 1967. The winds generated 9–10 metre swells in Cook Strait, cancelled ferry sailings, felled trees and caused power cuts in the southern North Island.
This is the realistic and daunting scenario given to players in Exercise Tāwhirimātea, a new escalating severe weather exercise created by the New Zealand Fire Service for AFAC (Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council), and based on events taken from various historic weather incidents in the country. Authorised by the Australasian Strategic Management Reference Group (SMRG), the training exercise is designed to assist the members of an Incident Management Team (IMT) to become familiar and competent with the structure, roles and functions of the various sections of an IMT. Realism and immersion in the scenario is enhanced by the players working within their Regional Operations Room (ROR), using their real-life facilities, resources and systems.
As part of the process of building the exercise, the project team conducted a significant amount of research and development, which included extensive consultation with the wider emergency management community. One of the aims the project team had was to make use of the information available to IMTs via the internet – Google Maps is an example of this. Multi-media also plays an important role in the exercise; the ability to record radio and television interviews and then insert them into injects is just one of the fundamental advances from previous strategic exercises developed.
The scenario is a long duration incident of approximately 10 hours in total and has been designed to develop and/or exercise the skills of individuals required to perform within a Level 2 or 3 IMT, including any additional agreed AIIMS/CIMS roles. The key target groups are therefore:
• Fire Service individuals who have received formal training in one or more of the IMT roles but have had limited or no opportunity to practise their skills within a Level 2 IMT.
• Individuals from any sector of the emergency service fraternity who have received formal training in one or more of the Level 2 IMT roles but desire an opportunity to be exposed to, and practise their skills within, a Level 3 IMT.
• Individuals from any sector of the emergency service fraternity trained and experienced in one or more of the IMT roles, who have had the opportunity to practise their skills within a Level 2 and Level 3 IMT but are seeking the opportunity to gain further experience.
The exercise, which is run on the Training & Exercising System software, is made up of two distinct stages, which can be run either separately or concurrently, as required. Injects are fired into the exercise at pre-agreed times to escalate the scenario and to broaden the players’ knowledge and to test their decision-making skills. The injects simulate the full range of normal operational methods of communications, including emails, radio messages, paper messages, news broadcasts and scripts for telephone conversations.
Stage 1 of the exercise will require a Level 2 IMT (predominantly Fire Service senior officers). Stage 2 of the exercise will require a Level 3 IMT (multi agency), concluding with a fully functional Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), and will ensure that all aspects of response to such a major event are exercised. It is designed to incorporate at least the following additional organisations:
• Urban Fire
• Government and Semi-Government authorities
• Civil Defence organisations
• Local Government agencies and
• Occupational Health and Safety specialists
Exercise Tāwhirimātea has been released to all VectorCommand users coordinated by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, including the New Zealand Fire Service. The first running of the exercise is currently in the planning stage.