The Port Hills fire and the rhetoric of lessons learned
Since the Port Hills fire of February 2017, several reviews and promises of improvement have been generated from local government up to central government level. The incident was the final trigger for a government-commissioned investigation which recommended the biggest overhaul of New Zealand’s civil defence arrangements since 2002. Change is clearly required, and it has been openly acknowledged by some agencies that their response was deficient in certain respects. Through documentary analysis of reviews, reports, newspaper or media articles and social media sources, this article asks: What has changed? It questions the rhetoric of lessons learned that has accompanied such reviews especially in relation to how these two words are defined in the lessons management literature. It is argued that no integrated, shared-responsibility-focussed review, free from any pre-emptive terms of reference, has been conducted to date. Rather, government and agencies have exhibited a form of elite panic, coined by Chess and others, which has been manifested as review panic in this particular instance. The article also draws attention to the fact that the Port Hills fire was not a natural disaster. At least one fire was deliberately lit if not both. It was in effect a $30m crime which involved the loss of human life. This reality appears to have been overlooked by organisations that appear too keen to treat fire events as simply another dimension of natural hazards management rather than taking a finer-grained risk management approach. An alternative approach is signalled, especially in light of a central government policy signal released in August 2018 to introduce fly-in teams during major incidents, which could extend into creating a situational awareness group made up of local and external expertise. Opportunities and initiatives are identified for better engagement with local communities such as funding for community response plans and paying closer attention to community social media outlets.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordslessons learned; lessons management; learning legacy; elite panic; situational awareness; social media; enabling communities; Social Psychology
Fields of Research040604 Natural Hazards; 120501 Community Planning; 170113 Social and Community Psychology
© The Author 2018.