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Civil defence ‘needs work’

Monday November 30, 2015 Written by Published in Local

On the back of three deaths in Rarotonga waters recently, serious work is needed to strengthen civil defence and emergency responses in the Cook Islands.


That’s the word from lawyer and political veteran Norman George, who said a spate of recent drowning highlights what appears to be the “systematic failure of the police and other emergency services to react on time”.

George describes police actions during the incidents as “catastrophic, shameful and inexcusable”.

This comes after the recent drowning of two German tourists in Vaimaanga and another local fisherman earlier in the month in Rutaki.

“About three years ago, we had a tragic double drowning near the Avaavaroa Passage,” said George.

“The slow reaction from emergency services resulted in a flood of questions being asked, and half-pie efforts made to provide answers.”

George said his neighbour Pakoti Tangatapoto, after failing to stop the German tourist couple from kayaking onto the reef to surf, rang the police for help when the couple encountered difficulties.

“He told me it took the police at least one hour to get on the scene.

“Where are the police patrols? I can travel to the police headquarters in Avarua from Vaimaanga in 20 minutes. What is wrong with our reaction time?”

George said all emergency services should have a central base where all communications are directed. 

“The base should be at the police headquarters manned 24 hours a day, staff from the police, Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI) and the airport fire service should be rostered to work there permanently.

“We should prepare and adopt a proper civil defence plan for use on a daily and weekly basis.”

“Let’s look at the EMCI. How many cyclones a year or a decade do they handle? We should adopt plans to use them on a modified emergency basis and to play a role in search and rescue on a regular basis.”

Specialists are needed to look at our civil defence needs, George said.

“Because of our small size, the practical utility of our combined needs should be adopted instead of grandiose plans based on major disasters which never seem to happen as regularly as we expect.

“Let’s give EMCI something to actually do, instead of them attending overseas workshops all the time.”

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