An independent review of the lockdown of Canterbury schools and early learning centres during the Christchurch terrorist attack has found communication between police and the Education Ministry was delayed because contacts weren't available.
This resulted in the police starting to contact schools and early learning centres directly to initiate their lockdown.
The report by KPMG was commissioned by the Ministry of Education following the shooting at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 which left 51 people dead.
The report raises a number of issues around communication and makes numerous recommendations aimed at ensuring greater preparedness for future emergencies.
It says once alerted by the police, the ministry initially communicated with the education sector via email and then called each school and early learning service directly.
This was a highly manual and resource-intensive process, resulting in some schools and services not being contacted, the report finds. Regular email updates followed a final call to end the lockdown.
Feedback to the review generally stated that the messages from the ministry were clear and concise, but a number of concerns were raised including the reliance on email when staff often were not in a position to receive them.
Delays in contacting schools and early learning services by phone resulted in confusion and a late response.
And while the direct calling from the ministry to schools and early learning services allowed some discussion, a number of ministry staff seemed uncertain or were unable to answer key questions or provided contradictory advice, the report finds.
The report also finds that some schools and services, including those in the immediate proximity of the incident, initially thought the message from the police was a hoax.
Under the heading "Learnings and opportunities" the report says technology is key for circulating timely information in an emergency to large volumes of people or organisations in an efficient and effective way.
Calls or texts are more likely to be received in a timely manner when compared with emails, it states.
The report says systems and contact details should be able to be accessed remotely as hard copy records or desktop-based systems may be inaccessible in an emergency. And contact details need to be regularly updated and stored in a single, consistent document that is readily available.
Regular, clear communication, which notes when the next update would be communicated, is key for reducing stress and managing expectations in an emergency situation, it says.
The report points out that centre managers and staff at early learning services frequently do not carry mobile phones as a matter of course on them. Early learning services should identify how they can be best be contacted and notify the ministry of that mechanism, it says.
"The strength of inter-agency relationships (i.e. between the Ministry and the NZ Police), were integral to driving a trust-based inter-agency response on 15 March 2019," it states.
The NZ Police should consider how to ensure emergency calls are not perceived to be a hoax, the report says.
Communication between neighbouring schools and services in an emergency event should be encouraged, it adds.
"The Ministry's role in an emergency is to be a central point of contact to receive information from the NZ Police and emergency services, to efficiently and effectively communicate to the sector and to provide advice and guidance to schools and early learning services that are needing immediate support."
The report also says parents and caregivers are potentially more likely to listen and respond to advice and instructions given by police during an emergency, and the police should therefore consider communicating publicly to them during an event regarding what to do and not do.
Schools and early learning services should consider whether morel lockdown drills would enhance their own levels of preparedness, "while ensuring mental health and wellbeing is integral to any approach," the report says.
It says a number of schools and centres indicated their lockdown would likely have gone more smoothly if drills were practised more regularly and were more realistic, lasting longer than five to-10 minutes.
Schools and early learning services are legally obliged to undertake fire drills at least once per team. The ministry also encourages them to undertake emergency management practice drills.
The Ministry of Education has welcomed the KPMG report and says it’ll work with schools and early learning services nationwide to implement the learnings over the coming months.
"The KPMG report recognises that the Ministry of Education emergency guidance is effective and accurate, however we are committed to working with schools, early learning services, and NZ Police to respond to the opportunities for improvement identified through the review process," says Katrina Casey, the ministry’s deputy secretary.
She says the ministry relied on email and telephone to communicate with early learning services and schools during the Christchurch event.
"Although this was largely effective, we now have access to Mataara, a new mobile phone-based tool that will enable quick and simultaneous communication with every school and early learning service in a given region. This is currently being rolled out across New Zealand," Ms Casey says.
As well as actions for the ministry, the report also highlights the opportunity for all schools and early learning services to review their current lockdown policies and procedures, she says.
"Emergency plans need to be pragmatic, support adaptive leadership, and have child wellbeing at the centre of all planning and preparation."