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Libby Young: leading in a crisis

June 29, 2020

Senior Transportation Engineer Libby Young does double shift as a Civil Defence controller during the COVID-19 crisis

The State of National Emergency was declared in New Zealand on 25 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, giving local authorities additional powers and activating Civil Defence teams around the country to spring into action. However, as one of our transportation engineers Libby Young can attest, it wasn’t a ‘normal’ Civil Defence response.

‘This pandemic is not an event you would normally associate with Civil Defence. It’s not a natural, tangible event like an earthquake or a flood—you don’t see people out in high vis fixing a road or attending to a landslide.’

Before Libby started in our Gisborne office in October last year as Senior Transportation Engineer, she’d been the Transport Manager at Wairoa District Council (WDC) for five years. When the pandemic hit WDC needed all hands on deck—including Libby—and she was seconded to the Council for two days a week.

Temporarily putting aside her voluntary work as a St John Ambulance medical technician, Libby became “weekend controller” for the Wairoa Civil Defence’s welfare response to COVID-19, overseeing seven function teams including logistics, public information management, intelligence, health and safety, planning, welfare and operations.

The Civil Defence response to COVID-19 is to identify and assess vulnerable people such as elderly, sick, beneficiaries, those on the poverty line and people living with domestic violence, and coordinate funding and resources to ensure they’re getting the right support. In Wairoa the community welfare piece is key as around 66% of its population identify as Māori, a minority group often underrepresented in positive statistics. Also, most of Wairoa’s workers are in the primary sector which was hard hit by the pandemic early on; when COVID-19 spread throughout China earlier in the year New Zealand’s forestry and meat operations had to halt exports, causing widespread job and income loss in places like Wairoa.

As a Civil Defence controller Libby works closely with the Council, iwi groups and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to make sure those impacted get the support they need in terms of food parcels, health and sanitary packs, relocations in cases of domestic violence, spiritual and social services and various other forms of welfare. Civil Defence must also ensure restrictions are adhered to and provide for the general safety of the public, as well as plan for cultural, social and economic recovery post pandemic.

‘This pandemic has revealed a whole group of vulnerable people in Wairoa that weren’t previously getting any support. We’re hoping that post COVID we get a fit-for-purpose welfare system so we don’t go back to pre-COVID support, which we now know isn’t enough,’ explains Libby. ‘Some people shouldn’t go back to “normal”. We have an opportunity now to lobby central government for more funding and support services.’

Libby was delighted that faith services could still continue during lockdown using the Wairoa District Council’s Facebook page as a platform for prayer and spiritual connection.

‘Manaaki wairua, or spiritual support, is very important to the Māori community and being able to provide this service was as integral to our support package as food or finance,’ Libby says.

Having spent her whole life in the district and being intimately connected to her community means Libby understands its complexity and recognised that Wairoa Civil Defence’s welfare response needed to be different to other parts of the country.

‘In a tight-knit community it’s about relationships and a high level of trust,’ she says. ‘People here know me and my family. They’ve watched me grow up. That’s important in a place like Wairoa.’ 

  • Libby Young

    Libby's the New Zealand Local Government Lead for our Transportation business, a Senior Transport Engineer, a team leader, and project manager for our Tairāwhiti Gisborne and Hawke's Bay clients.

    Contact Libby
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