NAME: Richard Woods
CURRENT TITLE: Manager Planning and Intelligence, Civil Defence & Emergency Management, Auckland Council, New Zealand
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Physical geography specialising in geomorphology, emergency management and risk assessment.
YEARS EXPERIENCE: 7 years university and 7 years hazards and emergency management.
EDUCATION: Physical Geography undergrad with a number of geology papers. Post Graduate Diploma in Physical Geography with an emphasis on paraglacial geomorphology evolution in New Zealand’s Fox Glacier basin. The term “paraglacial” is contentious, but science should always be challenged 🙂
What’s your job like?
Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management co-ordinates emergencies and crisis management for approximately 1.5 million people comprising one-third of New Zealand’s population. My role has responsibility for two portfolios:
1. Work with leading New Zealand scientific organisations to undertake hazards research to reduce risk in Auckland.
2. Manage regional investigations – examples include coastal inundation, tsunami and earthquake hazards to reduce risk to community through policy and education.
3. Lead a team which undertakes 24/7 risk assessment for impending hazards such as severe weather, tsunami, volcanic eruptions and cyclones.
Planning & Intelligence
1. Contingency planning for large emergencies such as tsunami, cyclones and potential eruptions from the Auckland Volcanic Field.
2. Situational awareness to ensure that a high level of visibility is present to plan for and respond to emergencies in Auckland.
3. Evacuation planning portfolio in the event evacuations are required.
4. Management of the Planning & Intelligence team during business as usual and a wider team, including Geospatial teams, during emergencies.
What’s a typical day like?
Emergency management is 24/7; therefore, you have to be prepared to respond at any time. As such, day to day can be varied but extremely rewarding.
Prior to my current role, I was a natural hazards analyst/advisor for 6 years. Working in southern parts of New Zealand, I was involved in researching hazards that could impact the Otago region, such as tsunamis, coastal inundation and earthquakes. In addition, I assessed sites for future development and provided technical evidence at hearings if developments were proposed in high risk areas. This role also involved impact assessment of sites post-event such as reconnaissance flights after the 2009 M7.8 Dusky Sound earthquake, local landslide and flood events.
A large part of my current role is stakeholder engagement. Now that may sound boring, but we need to ensure that if we have a volcanic eruption (Auckland is the most urbanised monogenetic volcanic field in the world) or any other event, we will have the necessary contacts to coordinate a response and ultimately save lives. This means that day to day I work with weather forecasts and geological agencies, central government departments, and senior staff at universities.
I also manage a team that makes sure we are on top of imminent emergencies. This team monitors weather, volcanoes, social media and Auckland to ensure that we can warn the public should an emergency happen, as well as developing plans should we need to undertake evacuations.
What’s fun? The diversity of a role in emergency management is great. It is a privilege to be able to reduce the impact on people during an emergency while helping to reduce the loss of life. Getting into the field to observe the impacts of severe weather, coastal inundation and other natural hazards is always exciting, but using these observations to improve future advice is even more rewarding.
What’s challenging? Nature is nature and often difficult to forecast, so making the call on when events will happen and their impact is challenging – particularly weather.
What’s your advice to students? When at university, I recognised that research is important but unless it’s used in practice, it will not make a difference in society. You could publish thousands of papers, but they will only be meaningful if used to influence change. Roles in local government are the platform to effect this change.
Physical geography is a great multidisciplinary subject that offers many job opportunities. During my study at Otago University, I was also fortunate to assist research in Antarctica for 4 weeks.