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Playing our part in the response to COVID-19
The Walking Access Commission is one of New Zealand’s smallest Crown agencies. But when we got the opportunity to help the All-of-Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic we were keen to contribute.
The Commission’s website is built on Silverstripe, the same platform as the COVID-19 website. So, two of our staff were redeployed over to the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) to help develop the COVID-19 website.
Asher Wilson-Goldman, the Commission’s Strategic Communications and Partnerships Manager, says the experience is one he will remember for the rest of his career.
He and the Commission’s Communications Advisor Stephen Day joined people from across the public service in NCMC’s public information management team. Their background with Silverstripe meant they were able to hit the ground running.
With more than 4.5 million visits to the website from New Zealanders looking to find information about COVID-19, Asher says this is likely to be the biggest project he ever works upon.
“It’s an incredible undertaking – bringing together people from across the public sector to create the equivalent of a whole new government agency in only a few days. We are working with an amazing team of people from ACC, DOC, LINZ, the Health Promotion Agency, the Social Wellbeing Agency, Statistics NZ, and more.”
Not only did NCMC begin with no staff, it had no offices, no equipment or structures. All that had to be pulled together on the fly, led by civil defence experts from the National Emergency Management Agency. While many civil defence responses are managed from a bunker underneath the Beehive, the sheer scale of this emergency meant that a larger space was needed.
A new home was found at the Ministry of Health. Many people were at a different desk every day, bringing their own laptop from their home agency. They worked long shifts through the weekends and evenings. All while maintaining 2-metre distancing from each other and careful hygiene measures. Others worked from home and have not met their teammates except via Zoom and email.
Asher says the diverse All-of-Government team is a strength of the COVID-19 response.
“The COVID-19 website has received a lot of praise for giving people the information they need. People have a lot of questions and there is a lot of other less reliable information around. The website has become the single source of truth for many New Zealanders. Having people from so many different public sector backgrounds has helped make that happen."
Asher and Stephen are continuing to work for the Commission when they are not rostered on at NCMC. They are not sure when they will return full-time to their normal jobs, promoting public access to the outdoors. But in the meantime, they are grateful for the opportunity to be helping New Zealand unite against COVID-19, playing a small part alongside the rest of the public service.