News stories have honed in on the fact Wayne Brown and his staff were left off a ‘vital’ email distribution list on the night of the Auckland floods. But internal emails from the mayor’s chief of staff show he was getting regular briefings from officials.
Internal council emails obtained by The Spinoff show Auckland mayor Wayne Brown and his office asserting that they were getting regular updates from Civil Defence officials on the night of the city’s floods, despite recent media complaints that they had been left off a vital email list.
A story run in the most recent edition of the Weekend Herald says mayoral staff were understood to be “screaming” at their computers as the city flooded on January 27, while requesting and searching for internal emails sent to an emergency management distribution list.
It quotes a spokesperson for the mayor’s office saying they were left out of the loop by staff.
“Neither the mayor nor his staff were on the AKGEOC (Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management Team) email distribution list and did not receive critical updates the day before or day of Auckland’s flooding on Friday. This has since been rectified,” the spokesperson says.
The story gives the impression the mayor’s office was kept in the dark as parts of Auckland went underwater.
However an internal council email forwarded to The Spinoff shows Brown’s chief of staff Max Hardy affirming the mayor was being briefed throughout the day of the floods by council officers.
The email sent at 9.09pm on January 27 is described as an update on the crisis from Brown.
“He is in the office and has been receiving regular updates from Auckland Emergency Management throughout the evening. He is also in touch with the minister,” it reads.
The email is a reply to one sent by council emergency management chief Paul Amaral at 5.48pm on January 27.
Amaral’s email was sent to the AKGEOC distribution list for elected members that the mayor’s office says it was left out of, meaning at least Hardy had seen an update issued to that group by around 9pm.
Another email sent out by AKGEOC at 7.15pm on January 27 contains a media advisory with a quote from Brown.
Council officials spoken to by The Spinoff say the fact the mayor was quoted in one of the emails by AKGEOC shows he was either getting updated on the floods or not asking the right questions of emergency management staff.
Though they’ve been described as “crucial” and “vital” in media reports, those officials say the emails sent to the AKGEOC distribution list were mostly generic, and didn’t contain much more than key messages and updated rain warnings.
A statement sent to The Spinoff by a spokesperson for Brown says when Hardy sent his 9.09pm email, he believed the mayor had been receiving all the relevant information from officials.
“But it turns out he was not,” the spokesperson says.
“The mayor and his office believe the information that was not received would have been pertinent to the mayor’s decision-making.”
The statement plays down Hardy’s assertion that the mayor was receiving “regular updates” from emergency management, saying he received “a few verbal updates” during the evening.
It’s understood those updates came at around 6.30pm and 9.30pm.
As for why Hardy issued a reply to an email sent to a list that didn’t include anyone in the mayor’s office, the spokesperson says he was forwarded the update by a council officer.
“Max did not receive that email from AKGEOC, but it was forwarded to Max during the evening by a council officer. The overall problem appears not to have been rectified until much later.”
In response to a question about why the AKGEOC account sent a PR release including a quote from Brown at 7.15pm, a statement from the mayor’s office explains the account has separate distribution lists for elected members and the media.
The mayor was only receiving the media updates, it says.
Former police commissioner Mike Bush is leading an independent review into the immediate emergency response to the floods, and it’s expected to cover why the mayor and his staff didn’t receive some updates from officials.
Some council sources say the email updates are a “red herring” in any case.
Other information on the flooding was coming in from social media, along with Brown’s own councillors. Waitakere representative Shane Henderson phoned Brown just after 4pm to warn him that the storm was extremely severe out west.
North Shore councillor Richard Hills retweeted footage of a flooded Northern Busway at 6.34pm, calling the situation “scary and horrendous”.
Brown himself told a press conference on January 28 that he was receiving information from a wide range of officials, and was in close contact with emergency services.
The mayor has been heavily criticised for failing to communicate effectively with the public as floodwaters rose, and recently apologised for “dropping the ball”.
However it appears some of his staff are still keen to deflect some blame for the poor communications effort.
Matthew Hooton, a political commentator and communications manager for Brown, has retweeted the Herald’s story on the email slip-up.
The full email trail from Wayne Brown’s chief of staff, Max Hardy
From: Max Hardy
Date: Friday, 27 January 2023 at 9:09 PM
To: GRP AC All Councillors
Subject: RE: Update from Auckland Emergency Management General Manager and Controller
An update from the Mayor on the severe weather event. He is in the Office and has been receiving regular updates from Auckland Emergency Management throughout the evening. He is also in touch with the Minister.
The Mayor is asking Councillors to stay informed through official channels and share only that official information with your communities, as recommended below.
He is awaiting imminent advice on whether a declaration of a state of local emergency is required or useful. I attach a factsheet for your information about such a declaration. The Mayor will also be seeking assurances that evacuation procedures are in place and communicated, if required overnight.
Max Hardy | Chief of Staff
Office of the Mayor of Auckland
Date: 27 January 2023 at 17:48:03 NZDT
Subject: Update from Auckland Emergency Management General Manager and Controller
Good evening Mayor Brown, Councillors and Local Board members,
Auckland Emergency Management has activated in response to severe weather affecting Auckland right now – particularly north, northwest and west Auckland.
We are currently receiving information from emergency response agencies and will provide you with a more fulsome response in due course.
In the meantime, we urge you to please do the following:
- Keep a close eye on your phones and inboxes for updates and alerts
- Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aklcdem
- Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AucklandCDEM
- Share information from official channels only.
- Severe weather is currently affecting the Auckland region with areas in the north, north west and west of Auckland affected by significant flooding.
- If it is safe to, stay home and shelter in place.
- If your life is at risk, dial 111 immediately.
- Check on friends, neighbours and family members – but do not put yourself in danger to do so.
- Do not drive through flood waters and keep off the roads and out of flood zones.
- Listen to the radio for updates.
- If you live in an area prone to flooding, plan to evacuate – make sure you take essential items, like medicines, with you.
Paul Amaral – General Manager, Auckland Emergency Management
Andrew Clark – Controller, Auckland Emergency Management