Decision to Evacuate Wakefield

Alan Thompson made this Official Information request to Tasman District Council

The request was successful.

From: Alan Thompson

Dear Tasman District Council,

During the Feb 2019 Pigeon Valley wildfire the Tasman District Council declared a “State of Emergency” and assumed overall responsibility for the incident. TDC appointed Controllers to manage the overall response. On the 8th of Feb the Controller ordered an evacuation of the town of Wakefield with the all of the disruption, stress and costs to residents.

In documents previously released to me it was stated that “there were concerns” regarding the proximity of the fire to Wakefield and that increasing winds were forecast. There was however no specific situation documented that set out the reasons for the Controller’s decision to force evacuations.

In a paper recently published by the Forestry Institute’s fire committee they analysed the fire weather and behaviour. The committee concluded that there was no basis for the decision to force an evacuation based upon predicted fire weather, the distance from Wakefield and the significant natural barriers the fire would need to cross to reach Wakefield. They further noted that in the unlikely event the fire reached any of the many natural barriers it would have been easily controlled with the resources available to the Incident Management Team.

The analysis of the fire weather by the committee identified that apart from the day the fire ignited, the fire weather conditions were moderate:
- high day time humidity (50 -75%)
- moderate temps (daily maximums in the low to mid 20s)
- light winds (mainly SE, 9 km/h av, max gusts 24km/h).

Under the provisions of the LGOMIA I request from TDC the documentation as signed off/approved by TDC’s Incident Controller (IC) ordering the evacuation of Wakefield. I would expect that this would include:

1. The Situation Report setting out the current situation with respect to the fire;
2. The trigger points as established by the IC to order an evacuation;
3. The predictions of fire weather and fire behaviour as considered by the IC.
4. Any other factors considered by the IC that contributed to the decision to evacuate.
5. The advice received from FENZ, Police and any others that the IC considered.

Thank you.

Alan Thompson

Yours faithfully,

Alan Thompson

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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council


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Thank you for your request for information received on 22 August 2019.

 

Under The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA),
your request must be dealt with as soon as is reasonably practicable and
in no case later than 20 working days after the day on which the request
is received.  20 working days excludes Saturdays and Sundays, Public and
Provincial Holidays and the period between 20 December and 10 January
inclusive.  On this basis, we calculate a response to your request
received is due by 19 September 2019, at the latest.  We shall of course
endeavour to process your request as quickly as staff resources allow.

 

For requests that are likely to involve substantial collation and/or
research, there may be a charge for staff time.  Under our charging
policy, staff time for the first hour is free of charge.  Thereafter this
will be charged at the prescribed rate of $38 (GST inclusive) per half
hour.  In addition, there will be photocopying charges at 20c per sheet,
with the first 20 pages being copied free of charge.  Under clause 13(4)
of LGOIMA we do have the ability to request the amounts due are paid in
advance of the release of information.   Please be assured that if a
charge is likely to apply you will be notified ahead of the request being
processed so that you can decide if you wish to proceed.  At that time you
will also be given the option to refine your request.

 

Kind regards

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

 

LGOIMA 
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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council


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Attachment CDEM Pigeon Valley Fire Controller Handover notes shift 6 to 7 08Feb2019.docx
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Attachment CDEM Pigeon Valley Fire SITREP 04 1400 07Feb2019 signed.pdf
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Good afternoon Alan

 

In addition to the information that has been released to you previously,
the other documentation we hold that falls within scope of your request,
is as follows and attached.

 

1)      a copy of a plan prepared by FENZ tracking the fire movement and
the area at risk on 8 February.

2)      A copy of the Controller handover notes for shift 6-7

3)      Share file to SitReps 4, 5 and 6 which provide a record of how
events developed.

 

We have referred your request for the FENZ advice to that organisation for
comment, regarding its release.  In light of this, it may not be possible
to provide the balance of our response by the due date of 19 September.  I
will let you know the position nearer the time.

 

Kind regards,

 

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

LGOIMA 
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From: LGOIMA
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Good afternoon Alan,

 

Further to my e-mail to you of 12 September, we have been unable to
procure a response from FENZ in relation to the balance of the information
requested. 

 

Consequently, we must apply an extension of time for our response under
s.14(1)(b) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act
1987 of five working days, which we consider reasonable in the
circumstances.   This means a response is now due on or before 26
September 2019.

 

I must advise you of your right to complain to the Ombudsman about the
application of this extension of time.

 

Kind regards,

 

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

LGOIMA 
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Good afternoon Alan,

 

In relation to the balance of information falling within scope of your
request, we are finalising our consultation with FENZ on the remaining
document for release and hope to be in a position to provide this to you
tomorrow.

 

Consequently, it is necessary to extend the statutory timeframe by a
further one working day, ie. a response is due by close of business
tomorrow Friday 27 September 2019.  We hope this is acceptable to you in
the circumstances but if not, you have the right to refer the matter to
the Ombudsman.

 

Thank you for your continued patience.

 

Kind regards,

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

LGOIMA 
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Good morning Alan,

 

Further to my e-mail of yesterday’s date, please find attached the FENZ
report, with redactions.

 

Personal telephone numbers and the grid reference for the source of the
fire have ben redacted to protect the privacy of natural persons –
s.7(2)(a) LGOIMA applies.

The QR codes have been redacted because they provide potential to access
data that does not fall within the scope of your original request.

 

I must advise you of your right to complain to an Ombudsman if you do not
believe you have been given a reasonable response to your request.  This
right to complain is dealt with in section 27 of the Local Government
Official Information and Meetings Act.

 

Kind regards,

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

LGOIMA 
LGOIMA Requests
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Private Bag 4, Richmond 7050, NZ
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From: Alan Thompson

Kate Redgrove
Governance Advisor

This OIA Request as submitted requested documentation as signed off/approved by TDC’s Incident Controller (IC) ordering the evacuation of Wakefield. As advised, I had expected that this would include:
1. The Situation Report setting out the current situation with respect to the fire;
2. The trigger points as established by the IC to order an evacuation;
3. The predictions of fire weather and fire behaviour as considered by the IC.
4. Any other factors considered by the IC that contributed to the decision to evacuate.
5. The advice received from FENZ, Police and any others that the IC considered.

You have provided in response to my request a copy of the FENZ Incident Action Plan (IAP) for the period 8-9th February. This does not meet the request that I made for the information that the TDC Incident Controller considered in making the decision and/or approving the evacuation of Wakefield as set out below:
1. The IAP cover page, as signed off by the FENZ Incident Controller (IC), states that the plan is for the period 1900 on the 8th Feb to 1900 on the 9th Feb. It was signed off by the FENZ IC at 2000 hours on the 7th of February. These dates are clearly not correct as a plan for the evening of the 8th and the day of the 9th would not have been prepared and signed off on the 7th.
2. The dates in the body of the IAP go on to contradict the dates on the front cover as signed off by the FENZ IC. The cover page states 1900 8th Feb – 1900 9th Feb. The dates on each page of the body of the document states it is for the overnight shift period 1900 8th Feb to 0700 9th Feb.
3. According to news reports and updates issued by TDC, the evacuation of Wakefield was ordered just after noon on the 8th Feb and was enacted in three stages that afternoon. The IAP you have provided is for the following evening (8th) and day (9th) and would have been prepared on the afternoon of the 8th. This plan could therefore have not have been considered by TDC’s IC when he made the decision to evacuate Wakefield.
4. Whilst some of the key wording are missing from the “Situation Report” page of the IAP due to a formatting error, the above timeline is confirmed. The SITREP clearly states that “Evacuations have commenced for the town of Wakefield”. Ie, the decision was already made.
This IAP document does not provide the information as I requested and indeed, signals a confused and contradictory state with respect to dates and who was responsible for the incident and the decisions (ie to evacuate).

I repeat my request for copies of the documentation that the TDC Incident Controller considered when he made the decision to evacuate Wakefield as set out in my OIA Request.

Given the significant delays to date, your early attention to this matter would be appreciated.

Alan Thompson

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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council


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Good morning Alan,

The FENZ IAP represented the balance of the documentation provided to you in response to this request.

An earlier e-mail (attached) was sent to you on 12 September 2019. You have not made reference to those documents. Can you please confirm receipt and that they have been reviewed by you.

Once I have that confirmation, we can consider the points you have raised in your e-mail below.

Kind regards,

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

LGOIMA
LGOIMA Requests
DDI 03 543 8400 | [Tasman District Council request email]
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http://www.tasman.govt.nz

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From: Alan Thompson

Kate Redgrove
Governance Advisor

Thank you for your prompt response.

I had examined the documents previously supplied on 12 September and found only two references around the decision to evacuate Wakefield.
1. SITREP dated 1400 on Thurs 7th Feb. “There has been evidence of ember transfer into Wakefield this evening” and “An evacuation contingency plan is being developed for this scenario”.
2. SITREP dated 1400 on Friday 8th Feb. “Preparation of wind gusts of 55Km.h with potential for spotting 0.5Km ahead of the fire”; and “Wakefield is being activated ahead of a wind shift predicted later today (8th) and further stronger wind gusts into Sunday”.

I was expecting that the additional information as supplied on the 27th Sept might provide the science and the robust analysis of the situation that the TDC Incident Controller considered in deciding/approving the evacuation of Wakefield as per my OIA Request.

However, as advised, this FENZ IAP is full of errors, provides a confused situation and is not relevant to the evacuation decision.

There are many factors not addressed in the information supplied that must have been included in the analysis and decision making process for such a significant and stressful evaluation of Wakefield. Eg:
- No confirmation of the reported embers in Wakefield and indeed, the wind was in the wrong direction for embers in Wakefield. The fire weather conditions indicate spotting (embers) where most unlikely given the high Relative Humidities.
- The forecasts never predicted wind gusts of 55 km/hr, who made this prediction?
- The actual weather was pretty much as forecast each day - high Rhs and light winds with some high gusts (25-35 km/h) briefly in the mid afternoons. These were mainly from the SSE pushing the fire away from Wakefield.
- The concerns (of the potential of the fire to reach Wakefield) did not discuss the significant firefighting resources that the IMT had at their disposal to prevent that happening
- There was no analysis of the 2-3km the fire would have to progress against the prevailing wind to get to Wakefield. This included crossing over open pastures and a river where it would have been easily stopped. Ie the predictions appeared to be made assuming that no firefighting efforts were involved.

I continue therefore to seek the information that the TDC IC considered in making their decision to evacuate Wakefield. In this regard I note the reference to the Contingency Plan for the Evacuation of Wakefield referred to in the SITREP dated 1400 on the 7th Feb for example. This is likely to be one of the documents the IC considered.

There must be others as well and in particular, advice and recommendations from FENZ. I note that the FENZ information supplied to date makes no such analysis or recommendation. Nor does their IAP and associated resourcing or taskings appear to indicate any particular concerns re the fire reaching Wakefield.

I await your further advice.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Thompson

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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council

Good afternoon Alan,

I will be speaking to the member of staff early next week about their recollection of events and ask about the Contingency Plan for the Evacuation of Wakefield but in the meantime, have you made a request of FENZ for information under the Official Information Act? I am happy to refer your comments to them for that purpose if you would like me to.

Kind regards,

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

LGOIMA
LGOIMA Requests
DDI 03 543 8400 | [Tasman District Council request email]
Private Bag 4, Richmond 7050, NZ
http://www.tasman.govt.nz

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From: Alan Thompson

Dear Kate,

I am researching how the decision was made to evacuate Wakefield, particularly in light of it becoming increasingly apparent that this was not justified and failed to include any formal processes or supported by analysis and options. The difficulty you are having identifying the information I have requested would appear to support this perception.

On the 6th of Feb the situation re the Pigeon Valley fire was such that Tasman District Council declared a State of Civil Emergency and appointed an Incident Controller to manage the overall response. According to the Min CD&EM in referring to the Declaration, “The response was led by Nelson Tasman CDEM Group, with the firefighting operation managed by Fire and Emergency New Zealand”.

From the documents provided so far by both TDC and FENZ, it has been difficult to understand how the parties integrated and united their plans and actions. Research into this aspect of the response is ongoing.

However, the decision to evacuate Wakefield was clearly a responsibility of TDC’s Controller under the declared State of Emergency. In making this critical decision, TDC’s Controller would have been presented with documents setting out the situation, the risks and how this might develop to the point of evacuating Wakefield. This information would have come from a number of sources including FENZ (with respect to the fire), Police (public safety and security) and your own CD team members (addressing the wider issues). It would (presumably) also include recommendations from the various agencies with respect to the evacuation.

It is this documentation that I request from TDC and will be held in your files of the event. No one else will have the complete picture and the advice delivered to the Controller in making this decision.

Thank you for your assistance,

Alan Thompson

PS: As an aside, I have asked for information from FENZ that might assist to understand their position on this matter but this has been refused under very dubious reasons. This was that there was a formal inquiry being undertaken by FENZ and they didn’t want to release information that might prejudice what people might tell the inquiry.

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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council

Thank you Alan,

Your comments are noted.

I am due to speak this week with the member of staff who was appointed Controller for the event and so have passed on a copy of your e-mail ahead of that discussion, for his consideration.

Kind regards,

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

LGOIMA
LGOIMA Requests
DDI 03 543 8400 | [Tasman District Council request email]
Private Bag 4, Richmond 7050, NZ
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Good morning Alan and thank you for sending through the additional
material. 

 

I have redacted your personal e-mail address as my response is directed to
your FYI address, the source of the original request.  I am aware that
those responses will be automatically published to the FYI website and
wanted the latest comments you have made in this e-mail thread to appear
there, for the sake of completeness.

 

I have had a discussion with the appointed Group Controller who made the
decision to evacuate Wakefield during the State of Emergency.  He advises
that, other than relying on recollection of the discussions between a
number of agencies that were present in the emergency room immediately
prior to the decision to evacuate, there is no other documentation we hold
that we haven't already released to you. 

 

He comments that factors before him at that time included advice from FENZ
about the state of the fire, advice from Police about the time needed to
evacuate in the event of fire extending beyond the control zone, the wind
forecast, the smoke nuisance/hazard, the fact that Wakefield was
experiencing ember transfer and the prospect of more, that the Wakefield
Care home had voluntarily relocated.  He did question the rate of spread,
the separation distance between the control line and Wakefield township,
and he acknowledged the sterling efforts of the firefighters in
controlling the blaze.  On balance he still believes he made the right
decision.  As it was, the forecast wind did not eventuate, humidity levels
in the morning were more favourable, and the firefighters were able to
hold the control line but of course the Controller did not have the
benefit of hindsight that you have in making the decision in a time of
crisis based on the facts as they were presented at that time.

 

I understand that it is standard practice for Emergency Management staff
to review the sequence of events following the Declaration, how the event
was managed, the application of relevant protocols, the outcome when the
State of Emergency was lifted and ongoing recovery issues.  Various
debriefs have been held and a review is in preparation. This review has
yet to be fully completed by Civil Defence Emergency Management Staff.  I
would suggest that they are asked to consider the concerns you have
expressed in recent e-mail correspondence (which I am happy to pass on to
them), as part of that process.

 

In relation to your request under LGOIMA, I believe this will now
translate to a request for the review of events by the Nelson/Tasman CDEM
and therefore is something that is not yet available but soon will be.  In
that regard, s.17(d) LGOIMA applies, albeit it may be a summary and not
full detail of that review that will be released publically.   

 

I look forward to hearing from you with an indication of whether you would
be happy with what I have proposed.  You do have the right to refer the
matter to the Ombudsman if you are not satisfied with the response given.

 

Kind regards,

 

 

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

 

 

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From: Alan Thompson

Dear Kate,

Thank you for your further advice on this matter.

I accept that we have now taken this matter as far as it will go in terms of searching out the information that I requested. I am more than happy with the efforts made by TDC (and yourself) to address my request.

The summary of your discussion with the TDC IC is consistent with the other feedback I have had in that there was no formal analysis, documented review or structured process with respect to the decision around the evacuation of Wakefield. Even the so called “ember transfer” was only ever anecdotal and never confirmed in any report. Certainly, the Rh and the Wind direction at the time suggested that this was most unlikely but regrettably no action was taken to confirm the report of embers. It was possible (and most likely) that the report was of “Ash” falling in/around Wakefield which would present little/no risk but of course would be a bit scary to the locals if not explained to them.

Your IC refers to my “benefit of hindsight” which is a fair comment. However, this does divert attention away from the information that he had at the time of his decision and how robust was that information along with advice/recommendations. It is now apparent that little formal and considered analysis was undertaken and documented around this significant decision. We can now only go back and look at the data that was available to the IMT and consider whether this, if it had been analysed and formally made available to the IC along with recommendations, would it have supported the decision(s)?

As per the Institute of Forestry paper, the answer is “No”. Furthermore, it is not clear why it was considered that the fire, if it escaped the control lines, would reach Wakefield given the distance, the topology, the fuels available, the fire weather forecast and the significant resources available to the IMT. Again, and regrettably, there would appear to be no documented analysis available that supports the decisions made.

I was unaware that TDC is separately undertaking a review so many months after the event. Min CD&EM undertook a superficial one at a national level and Fire and Emergency NZ are due to release their operational review this month. The FENZ review may provide further clarification as to the strategy, their response and the matter of the evacuation (albeit that was a TDC decision under the State of Local Emergency).

I would be happy for my request to be passed to your EM staff for their consideration. I would also be willing to prepare a submission to them on the matters I am researching if they would like further information.

Thank you again for your assistance and response to my OIA request. Based upon your advice I consider that this request is now complete.

Alan Thompson

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From: LGOIMA
Tasman District Council

Good morning Alan,

Your comments are noted and the LGOIMA request is now closed.

I will pass on the information and views you have provided to date on to CDEM to assist with their review. I will also make sure they are aware of your offer to supply additional detail, if required.

Kind regards

Kate Redgrove, Governance Advisor

LGOIMA
LGOIMA Requests
DDI 03 543 8400 | [Tasman District Council request email]
Private Bag 4, Richmond 7050, NZ
http://www.tasman.govt.nz

This e-mail message and any attached files may contain confidential information, and may be subject to legal professional privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, please delete.

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