Responding in times of crisis

Photo: Gisborne clean-up – Phil-Yeo.

By Alan Pollard, CCNZ chief executive.
As I write this column, cyclone Gabrielle has wreaked havoc in Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti Gisborne, and Hawke’s Bay, and the response is in progress as we remain under a national state of emergency.

I want to acknowledge all our members in affected regions. Many of your staff will have been affected personally by these events, and your businesses will be feeling the impact of this disruption. You are often first responders to the carnage caused by these events, securing the safety of the site and setting about restoring road access for communities, or telecommunications and electricity supply, or fixing damage to our water networks, or protecting communities from coastal inundation.

With the initial flooding events in Northland and Auckland, CCNZ maintained contact with members via the branches and our Northern Regional Manager, Calum Twist. We worked with the Construction Sector Accord and Dentons Kensington Swan, to develop project and contract guidelines dealing with the rights of contractors as a result of the disruption, and what actions were needed to protect the contractor’s position.

We also established an email address – – where contractors can submit queries to be included in subsequent guidance and response efforts. I encourage contractors to continue to use this email address to bring issues to our attention and let us know what’s available to support response and recovery.

Then, as flood disaster recovery was in full swing in the north, Cyclone Gabrielle made its appearance. The impact of this cyclone far exceeded forecasts, battering already sodden Northland and Auckland, down through Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, before the full force slammed into Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, causing catastrophic damage. 

CCNZ President Bailey Gair, Central Regional Manager Grant Radovanovich and I all live in Hawke’s Bay. We and our families came through safe and well, as did our homes. But we experienced the force of the cyclone. Bailey and Grant, in particular, live in communities adjacent to the severely hit Eskdale area, so have a good appreciation of the scale of this event. 

CCNZ staff called all Hawke’s Bay and East Coast members to check on their well-being, although many are still affected by communications challenges, particularly in hard-hit towns like Wairoa, and have received offers of assistance from contractors and suppliers around the country.

CCNZ Communications and Advocacy Manager Fraser May and other staff have been compiling an inventory of people, machinery, and equipment that can be mobilised and deployed at short notice, also using the email address.

At this stage this initiative is just an inventory of availability; it is not a call for contractors to travel to Hawke’s Bay or beyond. As the scale of the disaster becomes clearer, we will know more about how contractors can get involved and support the recovery. Once the initial response has concluded, recovery is going to be a major effort.

The havoc and devastation caused by these events will require a huge response from the civil construction industry. Amongst the tragedy, there are stories emerging of contractors who have done extraordinary deeds, particularly saving many lives.

To those contractors, thank you for your bravery and your efforts. There is no doubt your communities are grateful to you for this. One owner-operator contractor told us they had lost their 13-tonne digger and lost their Land Cruiser – but saved a dozen lives in the process.

The first priority has been contacting impacted individuals and households, as well as restoring access to the many areas cut off. With dozens of bridges down, that is a challenge. You have probably seen the damage wreaked on the Napier Taupo and Napier Wairoa highways, which have been so impacted that in many places they are no longer identifiable as roads. 

Health and safety of teams working on response and recovery is obviously important. For example, let’s not forget about the dangers of silt inhalation, learnt through the days of Canterbury earthquake liquefaction response. Please strongly encourage your teams to wear masks if they are working on areas impacted by silt.

Another challenge is crime. Aside from the immediate impacts of houses buried up to their roofs in silt. we have seen lots of gang activity, with co-ordinated theft of generators and supplies and intimidation of residents, as well as guns pointed at traffic control staff. In response, communities are establishing security patrols, and many farmers have a shotgun close at hand. We need support from law enforcement to ensure the region doesn’t turn into the ‘wild East’.

Co-ordination and regional leadership across the affected authorities hasn’t always been smooth. Grant has been liaising with contractors on the ground and regional operations teams, while I have spoken with the Mayor and CEO of Hastings District Council, the Napier Mayor and local Civil Defence officials to try and establish region-wide leadership and coordination. Although patchy at first, the response seems to be improving.

CCNZ is now working to inform the response and make sure authorities are aware of the people, capability and equipment that can support the response. We are also in contact with Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty’s office to try and ensure appropriate government influence over the response coordination. 

Finally, CCNZ has engaged with Waka Kotahi to ensure there is industry-wide coordination with the deployment of resources needed for the response, recovery, and rebuild. We have been invited to join a supplier liaison group to ensure there is coordination, alignment and oversight of the roading response. 

I am on the governance group, and Grant is on the operations group. We meet daily, and hope to achieve a positive response where the industry can work together to support the region’s recovery.

Impact on current projects

Thought has to be given to the impact of these weather events on current projects. It is important for contractors to have open and honest conversations with clients to address any project delivery concerns.

Similarly, head contractors should have early and honest conversations with any subcontractors, so everyone is in the loop.

It is incumbent on all contractors to make sure all work sites and workers are safe, and to prevent any potential environmental impact pertaining to the work site that may result directly or indirectly from the event. We would argue strongly that the events are unprecedented and were therefore not foreseeable, but in these situations, early engagement with your clients is essential.    

Contractors understand what actions are required in the project contract or any insurance policy, the steps to be taken to minimise any further loss or damage, and the need for good records to be kept of any conversations, instructions, and claims. Where possible, photos of the damage should be taken. In the case of insurance, it is important that all policy terms and conditions are followed; otherwise, a claim could be compromised.

We are already hearing of contractors with a good ‘can-do’ attitude, who have taken on work in good faith at promise of payment from clients, and working flat out for a month on storm recovery, but have not yet seen payment for their efforts. We are monitoring these situations closely and will continue working on guidance for contractors who need to claim a variation of contract, and those experiencing other impacts such as lost equipment.

The move from response to recovery

We have received many offers of support from local contractors willing and able to help, given proper direction, and offers of assistance from neighbouring regions.

In the first instance, while access was compromised from the North and West, we looked at what might be available from our Manawatu-Whanganui, and Wellington-Wairarapa branches to support the initial response, given there was no road access to the Hawke’s Bay East Coast region from the north and west. 

We are aware there will be a need for people and resources to perform the massive cleanup, recovery and rebuild. It’s likely this is a disaster that outstrips the Kaikoura earthquakes, and may even equal the Canterbury quakes of 2010 and 2011. 

There will be a great need for contractors to respond. Many hands will be needed to do the work to rebuild these devastated regions. My advice is to keep planning how you and your business can contribute to the recovery and keep having discussions about what the industry has to offer.

These situations are still evolving. We will keep members updated on what will be needed for response and recovery when more information comes to hand. If you have concerns, thoughts, or comments, please contact us.

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