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Thames-Coromandel District Council

Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy: Whitianga engagement example


The aim of the Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy project (started 2007/2008 - on-going) is to work with communities to minimise risks from Tsunami hazards by developing and implementing risk mitigation actions in three categories: (i) land use planning (ii) emergency management (warnings and evacuation) (iii) public education and awareness.

The project works in stages with individual communities along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Whitianga was chosen as the starting point as it was identified as having the highest risk from tsunami

Partners and key personnel

The project is a partnership between the Waikato Regional Council (WRC) and the Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC). Each has multiple roles and responsibilities, (e.g., WRC provides technical and scientific input, TCDC provides local emergency management leadership).

Project partners also include the Mercury Bay Community Board (MBCB) and the Whitianga Emergency Management Committee.

Overall approach

In discussion with the MBCBa community working group (CWG) was formed including members from the MBCB, Emergency Management Committee, and interested local stakeholders (e.g., local developer, rest home proprietor, hotel proprietor, and principal of the Mercury Bay Area School). The CWG acted as a conduit for public input, managed, and contributed to public open days, and developed the draft tsunami risk management plan.

Two highly attended public open days were held. Features of these were:

  • Technical information about the tsunami risk presented as mapped inundation areas (including depth and flow) superimposed on aerial photos clearly illustrating likely impact areas.
  • Format of an open forum where the public could review material and have individual conversations with local council staff, technical and scientific advisors, CDEM personnel, community board members, elected representatives (including Mayor) and local community response personnel (fire and police).
  • Prize draw where admission was a written response to the question

What do you think should be done to help this community reduce the risks from tsunami?’

  • Venue was the Town Hall, and the timing coincided with Queen’s birthday holiday to maximise attendance of non-permanent residents.
  • Timing closely followed the major tsunami event in Japan.

Further engagement activities:

  • Community summary document – simple outline of tsunami, risks to coastal communities and future options
  • CWG got verbal feedback before, during and after the open days.
  • Written feedback (answers to general questions about tsunami risk management) was sought after the open days.
  • Draft Whitianga Tsunami Risk Management Plan was compiled using public input from open days, CWG public liaison and written feedback. This was then made available for public review.
Did it turn out to be a good idea?

The goals of the public open days were to (i) raise awareness about project, (ii) test level of awareness, (iii) get feedback on what should be done to reduce risks locally, were all achieved.

There was good acceptance and buy in of the project overall from TCDC, WRC and from the public – which means people will think more about it.

The MBCB approved the Whitianga Tsunami Risk Management Plan. Both TCDC and WRC are implementing the plan, but progress has not been as fast as anticipated.

A second open day held between Christmas and New year was unsuccessful (timing not attractive to people) and in hindsight unnecessary.

Key points about approach
  • Working group driving the project– local people (don’t call it a committee!)
  • Project champion (Chair of the MBCB)
  • Format of the public days – allowed good, non-confrontational discussion and information exchange
  • Up-to-date – robust scientific information used
  • Multiple avenues for feedback
  • Linked land use planning, emergency management & community awareness
Things to consider
  • Must have means of formalising the outcomes with Council – achieved in this instance through the MBCB
  • Understand your community – e.g. making public open days coincide with presence of non-permanent residents
  • Helpful to piggy back on a major event that raises public consciousness
  • For long term – don’t underestimate how much you need to keep things ‘live’
  • Implementation – always challenging
When to use this approach

The project approach is best suited to a sub-regional level, ‘community by community’ initiative for tsunami or flood hazard management, but could also be used for other hazards.

Not a process for a large urban area – unless broken into smaller communities.

Links and Contacts

Community summary document for Whitianga (The Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy - Managing tsunami risks in Whitianga)

Whitianga Tsunami Risk Management Plan .pdf (208.19 kB)

Thames Coromandel District Council Planning Department

Brendan Morris – project manager, Brendan Morris Consulting Ltd