Civil Defence & Emergency

​​​​​​​​​​​​Welcome to Civil Defence Emergency Management. Here you will find information about how to be prepared and what to do in an emergency.

Civil Defence is all about people helping people. It is all of us workin​g together to take care of our community's needs in an emergency event.

If there is an emergency, everyone needs to be self-reliant and prepared to survive in their own homes for at least three days without assistance, other than from their neighbours.

In an emergency, Civil Defence co-ordinates a wide range of groups and agencies to:

  • Help prevent loss of life
  • Help the injured and relieve distress
  • Help return the community to normal

An emergency could occur at any time in the Whanganui District. Whanganui Civil Defence Emergency Management is there to help people in an emergency event. The Whanganui District Council and the Police, Fire and Ambulance services may not be able to manage the situation on their own. The Civil Defence network is able to bring together extra resources to help these services cope. Possible emergencies include: 



Serious flooding has occurred in most parts of New Zealand at some time or other.
Floods are the most common cause of a Civil Defence emergency.

What you can do to help yourself

Before a flood strikes:

  • Find out about the worst flood in your area. (Talk to your local council).
  • Calculate where such a flood would reach in your home.
  • Know how to reach the nearest high ground.
  • Keep your valuables above what you estimate to be the high water mark.
  • Store weedkillers, insecticides and other household chemicals above your estimated high wate

When a flood threatens:

  • Listen to your radio for information. Follow Civil Defence advice and instructions.
  • Move all possessions possible above the reach of flood water.
  • If you are told to evacuate, make sure you wear suitable footwear and warm clothing.
  • Take your Getaway kit with you.
  • Turn electricity off at the mains if told to do so.
  • Make sure your pets are safe.

Storms/h​​igh winds

  • Deep depressions, tornadoes or cyclonic storm events cause damaging wind.
    The National Forecasting Centre issues a strong wind warning when winds are expected to exceed 87 km/h over land.

What you can do to help yourself when a strong wind warning is issued:

  • Listen to your radio for information
  • Put away or secure any loose objects that may become missiles, including outdoor furniture, light sheds and caravans
  • Check that your survival kit items are all readily available
  • Make sure pets and livestock have safe shelter

During the storm:

  • Close all curtains to help slow down any flying glass or other loose objects.
  • Shelter further inside the house, away from doors and windows.
  • Use a mattress for added protection.
  • If there is lightning about, stay away from electrical fixtures.

After the storm:

  • Contact your insurance agency and the District Council if your buildings are severely damaged.

Hazardous chemical spills (industrial/transp​​ort accident)

The threat of a hazardous chemical spill is constant. A number of our industrial sites use and produce hazardous chemicals. Large quantities of chemicals are transported into and through Whanganui every day. The agricultural industry also uses and stores chemicals and pesticides throughout the Whanganui District.

What you can do to help yourself when a hazardous spill has occurred:

If you are inside:

  • Listen to your radio for advice and information.
  • Stay inside unless told to evacuate
  • Make the area you are in as airtight as possible, with dry towels around doors and windows; block up the chimney
  • If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately

If you are outside:

  • Leave the affected area immediately
  • When leaving the area, wind up the windows of your vehicle and turn heaters and air vents off so air can't be drawn into the car
  • Listen to your radio for advice

The continuous sounding of sirens, sited throughout Whanganui City, will give warning that an emergency is taking place.

Loss of water or p​​ower supply

The loss of water or power supply could occur at any time. It could happen from a failure within the power or water reticulation systems or as a consequence of any of the possible emergencies outlined.

Wanganui Utilities Services has a number of well tried and tested "failure response" plans and procedures in place for any breakdown of normal service. The City reservoirs hold three to five days' supply, which will ensure a restricted service will be continued whilst repairs are being made. Remember that most people have at least a week's worth of drinking water in their hot water cylinders.

Powerco also has response plans which allow for repair of the power supply in the shortest possible time. Powerco can also redirect power through alternate lines to bypass a major fault until normal supply routes can be re-established.

How to save and sto​​re water

Why do you need to save and store water?
An active adult needs to drink up to three litres of fluid each day. In very hot weather, our bodies need more. In a major emergency, drinking water supplies will almost certainly be disrupted.

How much water should you store?
You should prepare enough water to cover drinking, cooking and hygiene needs for up to five days, perhaps longer, and you must have enough for at least three days. If you have pets, they will need drinking water as well.

Preparing w​​ater

  • Use large size plastic soft drink bottles. (As a rough guide, you will need 1-2 bottles per person per day).
  • Do not use milk containers as it is practically impossible to remove milk residue. This residue will cause bacteria growth.
  • Wash the bottles thoroughly in hot water.
  • Fill each plastic bottle until it overflows with water that has been boiled for three minutes, then cooled.
  • Make sure there are no air gaps, then place the lids on tightly. It is important that no air gets in as this could make the water go stale.
  • Label each bottle with dates showing when the water was prepared and when it needs to be renewed.
  • Water prepared in this way will still be drinkable after six months, probably longer.

Storing​​ the water

  • Storing the bottles away from direct sunlight will help to keep the water clear.
  • Check the bottles every six months. It is likely that the water will still be drinkable but if it is not clear, throw the water out and start again.

Using the water

  • A few drops of lemon juice will help to freshen the taste and so will exposing the water to fresh air for a while (try pouring it into a different container).
  • Keep the plastic soft drink bottles and refill them when the emergency is over.
  • Boiling water for three minutes will kill any micro-organisms that could cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

Not just for disas​​ters

  • Major supply pipes and your own plumbing can develop leaks that may leave you without water.
  • Having water stored can help whenever your water supply is disrupted.

Getting th​​e water out of your hot water cylinder

The water in your hot water tank is a valuable source of clean water. Providing the header tank in the ceiling is secure and the pipes have not been broken, you will get water out of the hot water-cylinder until the water has been used up.

There are two main types of hot water tank systems used in New Zealand houses, low mains pressure and low pressure systems.

For both systems, firstly:

  • Shut your water supply off at the toby-box outside your home. This will prevent any contaminated water (from broken pipes on the street) from siphoning back up into your internal plumbing.
  • If any pipeline is damaged between the toby-box and your internal plumbing system, you should clamp the pipe with a G-clamp or improvise with a set of vice-grips. Another option is to bend the pipe 180 degrees to stop the leak.

For both systems the water can be extracted by opening the drain valve at the bottom of the hot water cylinder and collecting from the external drainage point.

Remember to turn off the electricity if you do drain the hot water-cylinder. This will prevent the element from burning out.


Restrict unnecessary use of water or power. The response to any breakdown in continuity of services to Whanganui residents will have the following priorities:

1. The safety of people.
2. The release of timely information and advice to the public.
3. The restoration of services as soon as possible.


Visit Greater Wellington Regional Council's site for information about how to deal with sewage.


Hundreds of earthquakes occur in New Zealand each year. Many of them are so deep that only a few cause damage and injury. However, a severe earthquake could occur at any time. Photo: Inside a Whakatane supermarket after the 1987 Edgecumbe earthquake

Earthquake r​​​isk

Information on Whanganui's earthquake risk is available on this page (PDF, 83KB). It includes details of earthquake faults that may affect Whanganui, what you can expect to happen in the event of a large earthquake and what you should do if one occurs.

What you can ​​do to help yourself

Before an earthquake occurs:

  • Secure heavy furniture to the wall or floor.
  • Place heavy items on bottom shelves or on the floor.
  • Put strong catches on cupboards.
  • Check your chimney is secure.
  • Secure your hot water cylinder and header tank (if you have one).
  • Check that your household insurance covers earthquake damage.
  • Assemble your survival kit items and ensure everyone in your household knows where your kit is kept.
  • Join a Neighbourhood Support Group. Contact the Neighbourhood Support office on phone 348 0568 for more details. Your best help will be a friendly neighbour.

During an earthquake, if you are inside: 

  • Stay inside. Take cover in the strongest part of the house away from windows.
  • Stay by an inside wall or in the smallest room.
  • If you are in bed, roll onto the floor away from any windows.
    Don't get under the bed. Stay close beside the bed, rolled up in your blankets/quilt.
  • If you are in a lift, stop it at the nearest floor and get out.

During an earthquake, if you are outside:

  • Stay outside. Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights and power lines.
  • Crouch down and cover your head.
  • Beware of flying glass or falling objects.
  • If you are driving, pull over and stop. Keep your seatbelt on and stay in the vehicle - it will provide some cover.

After an earthquake:

  • Listen to your radio for advice on what to do.
  • Put on strong footwear.
  • Check those around you and help them if necessary.
  • Make sure someone contacts help if there are medical needs.
  • The message that people in your area are all right is also important to Civil Defence.
  • Evacuate your building only if it is unsafe, but stay close by if you can until everyone is accounted for.
  • After a big earthquake expect aftershocks.
  • Don't go sightseeing - you'll hamper relief efforts.
  • Put out small fires and eliminate fire hazards.

More information on what to do after an earthquake (PDF, 144KB)

Safe places in an ear​​thquake

Somewhere close to you, no more than a few steps or less than three metres away, to avoid injury from flying debris.

Under a strong table. Hold on to the table legs to keep it from moving away from you.

Next to an interior wall, away from windows that can shatter and cause injury and tall furniture that can fall on you. Protect your head and neck with your arms.

Keep in mind that in modern homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure and usually have doors that can swing and injure you.

What to tell children about earthquakes

  • Find safe places in every room of your home and classroom. Look for safe places inside and outside of other buildings where you spend time. The shorter the distance you have to travel when the ground shakes, the safer you will be.
  • If you are indoors during an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on. Get under a desk, table or chair. Hold onto the legs and cover your eyes (broken glass). If there's no table or desk nearby, sit down against an interior wall. An interior wall is less likely to collapse. Pick a safe place where things will not fall on you, away from windows, bookcases or tall, heavy furniture. It is dangerous to run outside when an earthquake happens. Bricks, roofing and other material may fall during and immediately after earthquakes, injuring people near the building.
  • Wait in your safe place until the shaking stops, then check to see if you are hurt. You will be better able to help others if you take care of yourself first, then check the people around you. Move carefully and watch out for things that have fallen or broken, creating hazards. Be ready for additional earthquakes called 'aftershocks'.
  • If you must leave a building after the shaking stops, use the stairs, not the lift. Earthquakes can cause fire alarms and fire sprinklers to go off. You will not be certain whether or not there is a real fire. As a precaution, use the stairs.
  • If you are outside during an earthquake, stay outside. Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights and power poles. Kneel down and cover your head. Many injuries occur within three metres of the entrance to buildings. Bricks, roofing etc can fall from the building. Trees, streetlights and power lines may also fall, causing injury or damage.

Taken from 'Talking about Disasters' A Guide for Standard Messages.
Produced by the National Disaster Coalition, Washington, D.C. 1999

Earthquake measurements

Earthquakes may have many intensities but only one magnitude.

Richter Scale (measurement 1 - 9)​​

This refers to the magnitude of an earthquake and is a measurement of the energy liberated at its source. This may be many kilometres underground.

Modified Mercalli Scale (measurement 1 - 12)

This is a scale of intensity and describes the degree of shaking at a particular point on the earth's surface.

Modified Mercalli Scale

  1. Only detected by seismograph.
  2. Felt by a few people at rest.
  3. Hanging objects swing, heavy truck-like vibrations.
  4. Windows rattle, sensation like a heavy truck striking the building, standing cars rock noticeably.
  5. Felt by most people, sleepers woken, some dishes and windows broken, a few instances of cracked plaster.
  6. Felt by all, trees sway, some heavy furniture moved, some panic, damage slight.
  7. Difficult to stand, walls crack, some chimneys broken, noticed by people driving cars, general alarm.
  8. Branches break, chimneys and weak buildings fall, heavy furniture overturned, some liquefaction, panic.
  9. Most buildings damaged, some move off their foundations, ground cracks appear, underground pipes break.
  10. Many buildings fall down, large landslides, badly cracked ground, landslides considerable on steep slopes and banks.
  11. Most buildings and bridges destroyed, wide cracks in ground, earth slumps and landslides in soft ground.
  12. Total destruction, waves seen on ground surface, cracks open and close, objects thrown up into the air.

After a disaster, if​​ you are in your car: 

  • DO be patient. DO slow down. If driving in an earthquake, pull over if shaking starts again.
  • DO turn on the radio, to the nearest operating radio station, for emergency bulletins.
  • DO proceed cautiously (if safe to do so).
  • DO obey "road closed" signs.
  • DO give way to repair and emergency vehicles.
  • DO NOT attempt to cross damaged roads.
  • DO NOT go near downed power lines.
  • DO NOT stop under underpasses or on bridges.
  • DO NOT drive through water.
  • DO NOT abandon your car, except if it is unsafe to stay with it. (If you must abandon it, you should not leave it in a traffic lane. If forced to abandon it in a traffic lane, you should leave your keys in it).

Volcanic erup​​tions

New Zealand has seven active volcanic centres, all in the North Island. If you live in an active volcanic zone, plan to deal with the effects of an eruption. If you are in an area that could experience lahar flow during a volcanic eruption, know a quick route to safe ground.

The most likely effect on Whanganui District is from volcanic ash:

  • Eastwards from Mt Taranaki.
  • Southwards from Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro, Ngaruahoe or Taupo.

For more information about New Zealand's volcanoes, go to the GNS Science site or

What you can do to help yourself

When an eruption threatens:

Listen to your radio/television for information and advice.

During an eruption:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • If you go outside, wear a mask and goggles to protect your eyes and lungs from volcanic ash.
  • Sweep gutters and the roof clear of ash; heavy deposits can collapse the roof.
  • Stock up on water in containers at an early stage; supplies may become polluted.
  • Disconnect down pipes from water tanks.
  • Keep your pets inside as much as possible.

How to clean up after an ash fall:

Wetting down ash will form a glue-like material (not easy to remove) and add weight to the ash. The best method is to lightly damp the ash (to prevent it billowing) and to sweep it up.

Remove ash immediately (before rain if possible) but remember ash particles commonly have sharp broken edges making it a very abrasive material.

Clean house roofs first to reduce windblown ash covering cleaned areas or damage to guttering and blocking down-pipes.

Place ash in rubbish bags if possible and seal them.

Do not dump ash in the stormwater or sewage system.

Contact your council for information on the disposal of ash.

Prevent further ash entering the house by restricting access to the most protected (sheltered) entrance.

Vacuum indoor surfaces where possible or use a damp cloth to remove ash. Avoid vigorous rubbing.

To remove ash from your car, wash with plenty of water. Carry out car maintenance if you have been driving in ash. For example, check/change air filter, oil filter, oil and brake pads in car.

Clean electrical systems.

Dry ash should be blown off with high pressure air, while wet ash should be cleaned off by hand or with water at high pressure.

Tsunam​i/pressure sea waves

Some people know them as 'tidal waves' but they are not caused by tides. A tsunami is a series of sea waves generated by an earthquake, a large underwater landslide or volcanic activity.

An international warning system, based in Hawaii, attempts to predict any activity that could lead to a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issues warnings about tsunami through the Police and Civil Defence organisations, and via radio and television broadcasts.

Whanganui has records of tsunami occurring after the 1868 earthquake. A 'bore' travelled some distance up the Whanganui River. There is no record of the damage this may have caused or how far up the river it went.

Another tsunami was recorded on Christmas Day, 1922, at Castlecliff Beach. Again, there is no record of damage.

The most tsunami-prone areas in New Zealand are between East Cape and Napier, the Cook Strait area, the area around Banks Peninsula and the East Coast of the South Island.

Tsunami sirens

Civil Defence sirens have been installed at Castlecliff and Mowhanau to help warn people of tsunamis.

The continuous sounding of sirens sited along the coast and the lower Whanganui River estuary up to Putiki will give warning that an emergency is taking place.

The siren for the urban coastal areas of Wha​nganui sounds like this:


The tsumani warning sound at Mowhanau comes from a large, mechanical siren, which has an 'air raid' like sound.

If you hear a tsunami sirent, please listen to your radio and visit the Whanganui District Council Facebook page to find out what to do next.

Near source​ tsunami

A "near source" tsunami is generated close to the affected coastline. The water level may fall very quickly past the normal low tide mark, then return just as quickly. If this happens, there won't be enough time to issue warnings.

What you can do to help yourself

When a tsunami threatens:

  • Turn on your radio and follow all instructions.
  • If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Leave the area immediately if you are on the beach or near a river mouth when a strong earthquake occurs.
  • Go at least one kilometre inland or 35 metres above sea level.
  • Tsunamis usually 'draw up' water before they come inland, so if you see the water level at a beach or river start to go down quickly (after an earthquake) it is probably a tsunami. Leave the area immediately.
  • NIWA has more information on tsunamis.

The following article was sourced from the NIWA/GNS Natural Hazard Centre.

​Tsunami: how will you know one'​​​s coming?

First, GeoNet monitors earthquakes, volcanoes, and underwater landslides in the New Zealand region round the clock.Second, a system of sea-level gauges is required to confirm whether there is a tsunami or not. For example, on Christmas Eve 2004, there was a magnitude 8.1 quake to the west of Auckland Islands, but it generated only small waves up to 20cm high which arrived at NIWA's Dog Island gauge in Foveaux Strait 3 hours later.Tsunami from the other side of the Pacific are detected by thPacific Tsunami Warning ​CenterCloser to home, NIWA coordinates and disseminates data on tsunami, storm-tides, and other coastal hazards from a network of 21 gauges around New Zealand, including Chatham Islands and Antarctica (Scott Base). Over half of the gauges are operated by outside organisations who have partnered with us. Data are uploaded nightly and some sites are displayed at, any emergency response in detecting and confirming a tsunami is undertaken on a best-endeavours basis. Plans for the near future include upgrading the service so it can deliver a round-the-clock service to emergency managers.Once a tsunami is confirmed, emergency managers can activate public warnings and evacuation plans. However, if a tsunami is generated very close to shore, it may take only a few minutes to reach the coast with little time for warnings. In vulnerable coastal areas, people need to be forewarned of the risk and move to safer ground when they feel a strong earthquake or notice unusual sea behaviour.

For more information, contact NIWA 07 859 1894Or call free on 0800 RING NIWA (0800 746 464)​

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Page reviewed: 21 Aug 2017 1:33pm