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What is a state of emergency and what does it mean?

Published February 14, 2023 (last updated February 21, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety

A National State of Emergency has been declared in New Zealand.

The Minister for Emergency Management declared a State of Emergency to assist in response to Cyclone Gabrielle. This is only the third time in New Zealand’s history that a National State of Emergency has been declared. This response is reserved for very large emergencies, when a situation meets several legal tests, including overwhelmed emergency services and the threat of danger to people and citizens. This is an unprecedented weather event that is affecting major parts of the country.

The government has announced an $11.5 million package to support NGOs and community groups.

The last national emergency was the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and before that, Canterbury earthquakes.

Businesses and residents are anxious about the impact of the cyclone on their properties and income. Thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged and the ground is sodden and prone to slips. Thousands of people are without power in their homes. All modes of travel have been affected including air travel. Air New Zealand cancelled all domestic flights from or through Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, and Taupō until at least midday Tuesday.

What is a national state of emergency?

A National State of Emergency gives the National Controller legal authority to apply resources across the country in support of a national-level response. It gives relevant authorities the ability to coordinate further resources for affected regions.

It lasts seven days, like a local state of emergency but can be extended if needed.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) manages the response to the situation, with the Director of Civil Defence Emergency in control.

The declaration will apply to six regions:

  • Northland
  • Auckland
  • Tairāwhiti
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Waikato
  • Hawke’s Bay

A state of emergency is a significant legal instrument that enables and empowers the government to support the affected regions and provide necessary additional resources.

What do you need to know?

You should follow the advice shared by local and regional authorities.

There are some basic things you need to know:

  • Put safety first. Don’t take chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
  • Stay at home if it is safe to do so. But ensure you have an evacuation plan in case your home becomes unsafe to stay in.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • Keep updated with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of Civil Defence and emergency services.
  • Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater; even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles. Flood water is often contaminated and can make you sick.

MetService will issue weather warnings and forecasts, local Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) groups and councils will provide updates and advice based on their regions, Waka Kotahi will provide updates on the roads and NEMA will provide nationwide updates and advice.

What can you do?

If you run a business, you should review the impact the state of emergency has on your business and operations. There are certain guidelines you need to follow when supporting affected employees.

You can call our Advice Line for further information.

This document is intended to act as general information. It does not constitute advice. Please consult a professional for advice or further questions.

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