Opinion - Removal of DOC intention system

NZ Government Ministerial Contacts

Minister for Conservation Hon. Nick Smith (nick.smith@national.org.nz), Minister for Justice Hon. Judith Collins (j.collins@ministers.govt.nz), Minister for Tourism Hon. John Key (j.key@ministers.govt.nz)

Selwyn member & Minister for Internal Affairs Hon. Amy Adams (amy.adams@parliament.govt.nz) so Amy is aware what is going on in her own constituency.

OR visit www.parliament.nz for any contact in government should you not get a reply from the above ministers!

DOC Contacts

DOC Visitor Risk Management - Mike Davies (mjdavies@doc.govt.nz - the DOC person behind all of this apparently)

OR Waimakariri Area Manager - Kingsley Timpson (ktimpson@doc.govt.nz).

Quick Links

Current Overview ( 23/07/2014)
Ministers Reply to Petition Submission (2 July 2012)
Official Information Act Request (11 Dec 2011)
DOC's Visitor risk management policy (this is what DOC claims it based this decision on)
Discussion paper on issues/possible solutions (29/11/2011)
DOC's General Explanation (29/11/2011)
Original author comment (30/11/2011)
My original email tirade (28/11/2011)

Other website comment and news articles

Wilderness Magazine (17/05/2012) (article by Josh Gale)
RadioNZ (07/05/2012) (interview with LandSAR NZ, NZAC & myself re. concerns with the new system)
Southland Times (3/05/2012) (Concerns expressed about lack of awareness of AdventureSmart system)
Radio Live (Monday 20/2/12, 8.45pm timeslot, 4m25s in)
Otago Daily Times (22/02/2012) (DOC Press Release on intention removals in Otago)
tramper.co.nz (most extensive forum running on subject, and very much off the subject as well)
The Marlborough Express (2/02/2012)
Southland Times article (14/12/2011)
Ashburton Guardian article (7/12/2011)
Windy Hilltops (well balanced article)
Timaru Herald article (2/12/2011)
The Press article (30/11/2011) - nice photo of me giving evidence at coroners court - how ironic.

This "straw-poll" survey was taken over 4 days in February 2012 of park users ascending on both Scott's Track & the Avalanche Peak Track to Avalanche Peak (1833m) in Arthur's Pass National Park.
OSNZUse Paper
Intention Form
Use AdventureSmartTold SomeoneCarry
Know about
1167046NZ 42
OS 68
0NZ 3NZ 17
OS 28
NZ 2
OS 3
NZ 28
OS 54
NZ 6
OS 0
This "survey" was taken over 15 days in September 2012 of park users using tracks in Arthur's Pass that entered active avalanche terrain (Bealey Valley, Otira Valley, Avalanche Peak, Mt Aicken, and backcountry skiers using Temple Basin).
OSNZUse AdventureSmart
Paper Form
Use AdventureSmart
Online System
Told SomeoneCarry
Know about
97385900NZ 6NZ 32
OS 17
NZ 4
OS 0
NZ 37
OS 19
NZ 12
OS 2
100%39%61%0%0%NZ 6% NZ 33%
OS 18%
NZ 4%
OS 0%
NZ 38%
OS 20%
NZ 12%
OS 2%

Current Overview ( 23 July 2014)

( The paper-based Intention System has now been removed country-wide!)

The Minister has finally replied (2 July 2012) to the submission of the Petition handed her on 27th April 2012 - Click Here to view it. There is nothing unexpected in this, as it repeats statements from her previous correspondence.

The Intention Terminal in Arthur's Pass Visitor still has not been modified to allow users to check whether their "trusted persons" will take responsibility for them.

The 2nd OIA (official information act request) has now been received and shows clear concern from Police, National Park staff in high risk areas with the introduction of the AdventureSmart online system.

The petition that has been running since the 14th December was presented to the Conservation Minister on Friday 27 April with 555 signatures. Importantly 217 of these contained worthy comments showing a clear understanding of the issue raised by the removal of the paper intention system in Arthur's Pass, a understanding not grasped by the "blinkered" decision makers however. The opposition spokesperson for conservation, Ruth Dyson, has also been made aware of the petition and the various comments made. It should be noted that the terminal installed by DOC at the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre has already failed once since it's installation, this is aside of the fact that users would not have been able to complete the intention process using the AdventureSmart system on this terminal anyway!

Kingsley Timpson, Area Manager of Waimakariri (ktimpson@doc.govt.nz) has ordered the staff at Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre to remove the current paper-based system on Wednesday 2nd May 2012. It will be replaced by a single computer terminal, only available during office hours. This terminal is incapable of completing the intentions process, as the confirmation from the "trusted person" cannot be received, and there is no indication that the intention information was ever received by the "trusted person" - this is blatantly a dangerous situation for persons using this system with no duty of care being taken by this government department - criminal would be a better description.

Richard Davies (Federated Mountain Clubs President) has finally put his stake in the sand (FMC Bulletin March 2012), and has come out (as expected) in support of DOCs removal of intention systems. It is notable that he fails to mention the intention system along with it's mountain rescue service at Mt Cook is being maintained & managed by DOC ("the Government"), with its rescue component being at continued great expense to the public purse; and it is quite obvious FMC's general stance against "commercial activity" includes the broader scope of independent tourism, showing a clear lack of understanding of the reality on the ground once these folk set foot in our mountainous conservation areas, and that paper-based intention systems give DOC the best portal of interaction in providing safety information, and subsequent useful information to volunteer SAR groups & Police should these same folk get into trouble.

To quote from the Ministers (Kate Wilkinson) comments on this issue (14 Feb 2012) - "I have been briefed on the matter and I am confident that improvements to the intentions system are not only in the best interest of visitor safety but will provide greater certainty of information for search and rescue responses."

DOC has finally lurked out of the shadows on this subject after being silent for almost 2 months with an article in The Marlborough Express (Click Here) in regard the removal of the Nelson Lakes National Park intention system in December 2011 (retrospective public notice seems to be the norm). "The world had changed since intentions forms were introduced", Mike Davies of DOC says ... It's a pity the real NZ weather & terrain hasn't changed, as these bureaucrats make decisions as they stare into their virtual National Parks on their iPads or desktop computers.

DOC are to install a single public terminal in the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre; it will only be available in office hours (8am - 5pm daily); it will be subject also to the foibles of internet connectivity & power outages in Arthur's Pass, DOC will not be permitted to accept paper alternatives in this case. As has been pointed out numerous times, this is a completely inadequate solution, it gives no opportunity for after-hours intention submissions or changes of intentions based on current weather and mountain conditions.

The letter below was posted to DOC on 11 December 2011. Under the Official Information Act 1982 this request should have been answered within 20 working days. I contacted the Conservation Ministers Office (9 Feb 2012) who gratefully followed this up. DOC claim they did not receive the request until 4 Jan 2012, and also forgot to acknowledge its receipt; hooray - the OIA has now been received (18 Feb) and we are currently delving through it.

Aside of this request, I am of the opinion that no policy exists within DOC to remove existing Intention Systems, and any documentation pertains to the introduction of the new MSC system only, with no mention of existing system removals!

11 December 2011Graeme Kates
PO Box 51015
Arthur's Pass, 7654
New Zealand

TO .. Department of Conservation
National Office PO Box 10-420, WELLINGTON 6143

CC .. Minister for Conservation Hon. Kate Wilkinson

To whom it may concern,

I wish to obtain access to all documents pertaining to…
  1. The Arthur's Pass National Park public intention system (Year 2007 - 2012).
  2. The removal or phasing out of the Arthur's Pass National Park intention system.
  3. The removal or phasing out of public intention systems administered by the Department of Conservation in New Zealand.
  4. The Department of Conservation written/email discussions with the Mountain Safety Council of New Zealand, with reference to public intention systems.

Signature Included

Graeme Kates

Ref. OIA_DOC_11122011

Below is the so-called "policy" DOC has based it's decision on to remove all intention systems (except Aoraki/Mt Cook) in New Zealand. I challenge anybody (particularly the minister and any DOC personnel) to find any reference to intention systems (or their subsequent removal) in this document!

You may also like to have a browse through DOCs Visitor Strategy (2003), particularly Page 57 (PDF Page 61) in regards Intention Systems ensuring greater awareness of safety and risk during visits.

Visitor risk management policy


National Parks Act. (1980) Section
Conservation Act. (1987) - Part II section 6 (e) Part III section 13
Reserves Act (1977)
General Policy Conservation Act and Related Legislation - sections 8a/b/c/d/e 9.3 a/b 11.1d.
General Policy National Parks Act - sections 8.3 a/b 8.2 a/b/c 10.1 f.

Building Act (2004)
Health Act (1956)
Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992)
Occupiers Liability Act (1962)
Land Transport Act (1998)


This policy relates to management of risk to visitors using Department of Conservation (DOC) managed areas. Visitor management is based on Visitor Groups as defined in the Visitor Strategy (1996). The principles have been developed from the Strategy. The purpose of this policy is to identify the principles that should be incorporated into any work undertaken by the Department in the area of visitor management.
The outdoor recreation experience is part of New Zealand's historic and cultural heritage and an important aspect of our national identify. Risk is part of the outdoor experience and should be managed where the negative consequences for visitors are identified. Risk is defined as the chance of something happening that will have an impact on objectives (AS/NZS 4360:2004 Risk Management). This is often specified in terms of an event or circumstances and consequences that may flow from that event. Risk is measured in terms of a combination of the consequences of an event and the likelihood of this event occurring.
It is impossible to predict all hazards that may occur in natural areas and to have outdoor recreation experiences free of risk. Elements of risk will always be present in nature and the potential for, or perception of risk is an important part of the outdoor recreation experience. It is important for visitor management to balance the negative aspects of risk such as serious injury with the positive experience of risk such as a sense of challenge and accomplishment.


The Department will:
  • undertake visitor management in accordance with the principles outlined below and the relevant legislation, policies, plans and standards that govern the Department
  • apply the principles below in a consistent manner to the Department's visitor management work


1. The Department will aim, as far as possible, to preserve the range of outdoor recreation experiences sought by visitors.
  • The Department will manage recreation opportunities for specific Visitor Groups to maintain the outdoor recreation experience.
  • The management practices at each site will match the needs of the visitors using those sites. Visitor needs will be periodically assessed via visitor monitoring.
  • The positive aspects of on site risks (e.g. challenge) will be actively preserved according to visitor group needs.
2. The Department will ensure all its legal obligations are met for the facilities it manages and all practicable steps are taken to ensure these facilities are safely situated in accordance with the predominant Visitor Group.
  • The level of provision of facilities reflects the needs and preferences of different Visitor Groups. There is a continuum of likely risk and associated risk management based on the predominant visitor group; Frontcountry sites (short stop traveller, day visitor and overnight ) have less risk, as the risks that may be present are actively managed. The risks present increase in the backcountry for backcountry comfort seeker, and then backcountry adventurer sites. Remoteness seeker sites have little active risk management and visitors are expected to be highly capable of looking after themselves.
  • Facility management is based on Service Standards which encompass all legislative requirements that govern operation of these facilities such as those in the Building Act. The level of facility and information provision at locations will reflect the type of visitor most likely to visit the location.
  • The Department will provide visitors with facilities that are safe and are located, designed, constructed and maintained in accordance with all relevant legislation and sound building practices to meet appropriate standards.
3. The Department will where possible inform visitors of hazards and the risks they present, and the level of skill and competence required to cope with these risks commensurate with the predominant Visitor Group.
  • The level of provision of services reflects the needs and preferences of different Visitor Groups
  • The Department will take all practicable steps to identify and document hazards appropriate to the visitor group setting.
  • The Department will work with others to provide information for visitors about hazards and how to deal with them.
  • The Department will communicate this information via the website, publications, visitor centres, signs, editorial and other media.
  • The Department will maintain a visitor notices system which will as far as practicable provide current and relevant information about facilities and services.
  • The Department will communicate hazard and safety in a consistent manner. Website information will be consistent with other visitor information.
  • The Department will periodically test the effectiveness of hazard information with visitors.
4. Visitors are responsible for decisions regarding the risks they take and for any others under their care and responsibility.
  • The Department will take all practicable steps to identify and where appropriate manage hazards. It will inform visitors about these hazards and the associated risk present in the areas it manages in accordance with the predominant visitor group.
5. Visitors are responsible for the skills, competence, and equipment they require to manage the hazards present.
  • The Department will take all practicable steps to identify and where appropriate manage hazards. It will inform visitors about these hazards and the associated risk present in the areas it manages in accordance with the predominant visitor group.
6. Concessionaires will be responsible for the safety needs of their clients
  • All concessionaires operating on land management by the Department have a safety requirement included as part of their concession conditions which describes their responsibility for the safety of their clients.


1. The General Manager, Research, Development and Improvement (RD&I) is accountable for the review of this policy.
2. The General Manager's Operations are accountable for the implementation of this policy.
3. Conservators are accountable for the implementation of the policy in their respective conservancies.

Signed Kevin O'Connor
General Manager RD&I

Date: 2008

Barbara Browne
General Manager Operations - Northern Region

Date: 2008

John Cumberpatch
General Manager Operations - Southern Region

Date: 2008


The principles above will be implemented through existing and new Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines in the visitor area.

The current intention system is to be removed in Arthur's Pass on 2nd May 2012 (this has been brought forward from the original "end of season" statement by DOC).

Thank you for the many emails of support, and understanding of the issues raised by the removal of a "paper based intention system" in Arthur's Pass National Park. I would encourage you to take your concerns directly to three ministers (Minister for Conservation Hon. Kate Wilkinson - k.wilkinson@ministers.govt.nz, Minister for Justice Hon. Judith Collins - j.collins@ministers.govt.nz), Minister for Internal Affairs (and our local Selwyn representative) Hon. Amy Adams - amy.adams@parliament.govt.nz) particularly those who have contacted me from overseas, climbers and day-visitors (and others who make "spontaneous" and informed decisions on arrival about their final chosen activity), as these are the park user groups that will be most effected by this DOC policy. I have also initiated an Online Petition (how ironic :) to be presented to the Minister for Conservation (Kate Wilkinson).

The Mountain Safety Council's (MSC) P.R. officer is now madly defending the new online system, but thus far, has failed to address any issue raised specific to consequences of removal of the Arthur's Pass paper based system, and it now seems very obvious that concerns expressed by Arthur's Pass front-line DOC staff in 2009 were never forwarded by DOC management to the designers of this new system.

In the Timaru Herald (2/12/2011) there was a quote from MSC spokeswoman Andrea Hubbard stating "the online system was not replacing the current system, but was intended to be an extension of it", a sentiment also expressed in their original magazine press releases, and of course a sentiment expressed by this author!

DOC has now temporarily retracted its original proposal to remove the current intentions system in Arthur's Pass National Park on 1st December 2011, however it will be imposed on 2nd May 2012. However the DOC policy remains completely unchanged ie. the intention system will be removed.

There is a myriad of issues raised by any removal of the current intentions system in Arthur's Pass and it's subsequent replacement with the MSC system. We must find solutions around all the impasses currently cited, or leave the current system in-situ. To this end, below is a discussion paper citing the most obvious flaws identified by local DOC staff, the general Search & Rescue membership and park users.

The Arthur's Pass National Park Management Plan (2007) states - "The easy access to the Park's mountainous environment, most particularly for day trips from Arthur's Pass village for walking, tramping, climbing or skiing, has seen this area have one of the highest fatality rates, both historically and recently, within the New Zealand backcountry. A reduced fatality rate is a priority for Department action." - Obviously DOC management will be seeking an amendment of this statement to something much more grim given it's new "policy"!

- Graeme Kates -

Removal of Paper Based Intentions System: Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.

The following is a discussion document prepared by Hamish Reid (Team Leader, Arthur's Pass Rescue).

Issues that are immediately apparent and potential solutions. Hamish Reid - 29/11/2011.

Public awareness

  • The public are not aware that the existing system is planned for removal.
  • The public is not yet well informed of the new resources.
  • DOC publications (route guides, brochures, web pages etc) have not been updated.
  • Resources on slower publication cycles, such as Lonely Planet guidebooks, tramping guide books etc, will continue to refer to the existing system for some time.
Possible solutions:
  • Delay removal of existing systems for 6-12 months - inform park users that existing system will be removed at a specific date, while maintaining both systems in tandem.
  • OR maintain existing system indefinitely.
  • Wait for planned public awareness campaign to have an impact.
  • Update DOC publications well before any change.
  • Contact authors of key guidebooks as soon as possible.

Staff support

  • DOC staff are not well informed about the new system, and are not equipped to promote it to the public.
Possible solutions:
  • Adequately resource staff to promote the new system. Provide training and publications.

Public access

  • Lack of 100% reliable, 24 hour internet access will make it difficult for people to sign in, and sign out, especially after hours.
  • There is no free internet access in Arthur's Pass.
Possible solutions:
  • Provide a free terminal in the Visitor Centre foyer. A tablet, could be securely inset into a wall fitting outside of hours.
  • Have paper forms available for use during internet/power outages, and allow for special circumstances where DOC could still accept the role of trusted contact.
  • Open the visitor centre for longer hours over summer.
  • Or leave existing system in place indefinitely.
In Arthur's Pass, I believe around 5% of intentions are left outside business hours, mostly by mountaineers and multi sport competitors. However a significant number are signed out after hours.

Minimal staff interaction in process

  • The new system does not pick up inaccurate data entry.
  • The new system will not identify safety issues with the planned activity.
Possible solutions:
  • Monitor new system over next 6-12 months to see if this is a problem, and work to remedy any issues that arise from this.
The opportunity for staff to note critical errors in the completion of forms, which is a common occurrence, is one of the biggest assets of the current system.

Compulsory form fields

  • Critical information fields, such as where the person/party is going, are not compulsory in the online forms.
Possible solutions:
  • Make key fields compulsory and ensure clear prompts are provided.
  • Check with RCC regarding the information they would like for beacons.
  • Or leave existing system in place indefinitely.

Late changes to intentions

  • The new system may make it harder to capture late changes to plans (even after their trip has commenced).
Possible solutions:
  • Provide a terminal in the Visitor Centre foyer and/or educate the populations most affected by this to take it into account when planning.
  • Or leave existing system in place indefinitely.

A perfect summit day

  • There are days where hundreds of day walkers and trampers are active in the pass, and a significant number of these wish to leave intentions. Some mornings there may be half a dozen people filling out intention cards at one time.
  • The Rough Plan system requires users to sign up, which takes time for first time users.
  • Using the online Adventure Smart form requires a wait, potentially a very long wait, for the Trusted Contact to confirm.
Possible solutions:
  • Ensure the visitor centre is adequately equipped with more than one terminal, or several portable tablets. These could also be used for other interactive services during less busy periods.
  • Ensure the public roll out and awareness campaign covers the need to allow much more time, especially for first time users.
  • Or leave existing system in place indefinitely.

The international visitor

  • I believe more than 60% of park users are from overseas. For many of them their Trusted Contact will be a friend or family member in their home country, for whom this system will be foreign in all sense of the word.
  • The online system may be challenging for those with minimal English language skills.
  • The online system expects a delay while awaiting receipt and acceptance of the responsibility.
Possible solutions:
  • Get feedback or upfront input from overseas visitors regarding how well the system works for them.
  • Ensure the online system is internationally friendly.
  • Monitor the system and remedy any issues that arise from this.
  • Or leave existing system in place indefinitely.
It is encouraging to see that feedback on the issue of interpreting overdue times across multiple time zones has been taken on board, and GMT used as a reference.

Situational data for search and rescue

  • The existing system makes it easy to track potential witnesses who can often help the search effort through the situational or subject information they provide.
Possible solutions:
  • No suggestion other than leave existing system in place indefinitely.

DOC's General Explanation (29 November 2011)

Hi... ,

thank you for your email with concerns about public safety in the back country and in particular Arthurs Pass.

To clarify pending actions, the Mountain Safety Council has led a project (working with organizations who have an interest in visitor safety) to develop a consistent outdoor safety message.

With the Department of Conservation support an improved visitor intentions system has been developed by the Mountain Safety Council and has been endorsed by the NZ Search and Rescue Council, Land SAR, the Police, Tourism NZ, ACC, Tourism Industry Association, SPARC and the Walking Access Commission. A roll out of the new system is pending and still places the onus of leaving intentions (using web based form) with a trusted contact. It is no longer the department policy to hold visitor intentions and there is no change to our practice of informing, "where possible" hazards to visitors and the risks they may encounter.

To provide a more balanced view it would be useful if you viewed the adventure smart web site on www.adventuresmart.org.nz


Kingsley Timpson

Area Manager - Poumanahere
Waimakariri Area Office, Rangiora
Department of Conservation - Te Papa Atawhai
DDI: +64 3 313 0821
Conservation for prosperity Tiakina te taiao, kia puawai

Original Author Comment (30 November 2011)

DOC management has been trying for some time now, 5-6 years from my memory, to remove the Arthur's Pass Intentions System. This is removal of one more aspect of its core business, namely visitor safety.

DOC is stating "it was not the department's role to manage people's intentions and the paper system would be phased out", in the Arthur's Pass context this "management" simply implies...
  • Purchasing 3000 pre-designed cards per annum at a cost of $800.
  • Whilst giving route specific safety messages or hints to park users, DOC staff monitor the filling in of an intentions card for enough information to be viable for a successful search or rescue. They collect and check intentions cards deposited after-hours. Cards are appropriately filed in either a day or overnight book.
  • Cards are checked as priority in morning (some may be checked earlier by local LandSAR should a risk be identified by DOC staff in their personal contact with a park user); all overdues are researched (ie. ring direct/emergency/accommodation contact); if cannot confirm out immediately contact local LandSAR/Police to follow up. Nominally this process in morning takes 10 minutes.
  • Accept return slips during day, and interview returnees of conditions or hazards on routes so this information can be used to better manage the Park and safety of park users.
DOC has siezed the opportunity to remove the Arthur's Pass system after the Mountain Safety Council was contracted by Police, LandSAR, DOC, RCC to design and roll-out an improved intention system for national use. At the end of the day any intentions system is only as good as the information that goes into it, and this information is required by Police and LandSAR so they can find the missing or injured parties.

Unfortunately some recommendations and components recommended on by LandSAR/Police were either watered down or dropped completely, so effectively the usefulness has been deminished immediately for the key agencies responsible for the hard-yards in our wilderness areas such as Arthur's Pass. This author is not saying the new system should not exist, it definitely is worthy and can only value-add or complement existing systems. The issue is with DOC policy, in that it perceives front-line staff in accepting and managing an intention system are putting themselves at legal risk; in the 15 odd years I have managed intention systems in Arthur's Pass this spectre never raised its head and has never intimidated staff, and obviously it doesn't at Mt Cook now (Arthur's Pass currently takes intentions for DOC staff in the field that uses a much more "mickey mouse" system - so is that going to end?). We both have unique public intention systems that work.

There was a hope that some special cases, where existing systems existed (Mt Cook, Arthur's Pass, Stewart Island) that these would be preserved, and the new system would run concurrent to it. Unfortunately as DOC left the round table of "partners", it decided to use this opportunity to instigate its own agenda of removal of intention systems throughout the country. Luckily Mt Cook managed to avoid loss of its system, not in small part due to the strong leadership, and passion held by its management levels and staff. Unfortunately Arthur's Pass did not meet what ever criteria has been set out in the policy, or simply it's managers in Canterbury have a very poor grasp on the real-world environment and unique issues faced in Arthur's Pass National Park.

Grass-roots and coal-face employees of DOC in Arthur's Pass do however have the "balls" to make a stand, however there is no chance any manager in Canterbury will support them, and Director General, Al Morrison, has no interest in a conversation on public safety. Local LandSAR and Police are gravely concerned of DOCs policy. National LandSAR, being an NGO, has stated it cannot change DOC policy, although it has has offered to adapt/change the MSC system for its part.

The policy roll-out by DOC, that was in reality just a removal, was due to take place on the 1st December, this was only notified internally a week in advance. According to LandSAR, the MSC system is still in "test mode", and no resources or infrastructure has been distributed to DOC Arthur's Pass to support the new system.

A meeting held in Arthur's Pass on Monday (28/12) between Area Manager, Kingsley Timpson, DOC staff, local LandSAR & Police, eventually conceded a temporary reprieve allowing the current system to remain through this summer season (now stated as 2nd May 2012), but policy would be implemented at end, and the system removed. This is a win for park users in the short-term, but the point is the new system that relies on internet, email, or trusted person is completely inappropriate for the remote alpine environment and Village of Arthur's Pass. It also removes vital components of the current system that are not adaptable into the new system; it could incorporate long delays in rescue response time, particularly for travelling overseas visitors, who are the "bread & butter" of New Zealand tourism. As all current park users will be aware, any delay in an alpine environment can lead to a very bad outcome.

This is a poorly conceived policy on DOCs part with no bearing on continued public safety in some key National Parks. Certainly there are benefits that may evolve from the new system in a broader New Zealand context, but removal of critical safety nets, such like in Arthur's Pass is counter-intuitive.

At the end of the day the coroner will decide the intelligence of removing the current intentions system in Arthur's Pass. So long as the debate, and various stands of individuals can be documented the buck will ultimately stop with some individual or group of individuals when (not if) things turn pear-shaped. Unfortunately this will be at the expense of someones valuable life (certainly more than $800 worth).

In offering up solutions - the most obvious is to change DOC policy, so it can accept and take responsibility for the new MSC intentions forms over the counter (like it did in the old days with the pink forms), or in the after hours box, though an after-hours sign-out method needs to be established. This ticks the so called "consistency" box that DOC keeps citing as its primary policy objective.

- Graeme Kates (30/11/2011)-

PS. Quite ironically there was no internet availability in Arthur's Pass Village on Tuesday 29 December between 8am - 6pm, so an online system would be knobbled, and DOC would not be allowed to accept the printed version of the MSC form in lieu. Thank goodness the existing DOC administered system still existed :)
new policy

My original email tirade (28 November 2011)...


To whom it may concern,

this has all been brought about by DOC intending to roll out the new system this week on 1st December (this is apparently their "policy"), what that meant in reality was management was going to instruct front-line staff to remove the current working system on Thursday this week - cold turkey in effect.

The first we knew of this "policy" was a rumor mid last week; the last time it was mooted in 2009 when we only found out by mistake (a slip of the tongue by a DOC manager - Mike Davies) and nothing internally ever purposely found it's way to the "coal-face" in DOC since then, and certainly at the time we provided a lot of feed-back on the original proposal (3-4 pages sent directly to Mike Davies on what the current system provides that an online system would not), but never heard back, and certainly DOC Arthur's Pass was not considered a "stake-holder" at any stage during the process since then, or if it was it only made it to management or accountant level and was duly absorbed.

As LandSAR CEO points out a NGO can't influence a government policy, however talking with the Police (that obviously isn't a NGO) they had a "different understanding" of how the new system might be rolled out in some "key" locations including Arthur's Pass, Mt Cook, Stewart Is. etc. So obviously the warm & fuzzy, one for all, all for one approach of the "partners" and the "understandings" didn't quite translate when it filtered down the corporate ladder of DOC.

We had a meeting with Kingsley Timpson (Waimakariri Area Manager) today and he could not effectively explain why Mt Cook was able to retain its current system in Canterbury, he pointed to MOUs with Police, but investigation reveals very little in the SAR MOU that would explain its immunity; the only effective difference is they pay their SAR team, and have a worthy manager in Richard MacNamara who sees the realities of life in his area and has the balls to support his team.

The MSC rollout of the new system (if it was to be 1st December) is obviously a shambles and certainly should not be in any "test mode" at this stage. There is no public information on the new system available to tourists in our Village or infrastructure in Arthur's Pass to handle it (ie. no 24hr free internet access, no public faxes, and no "trusted persons" lurking in the shadows of the 63% persons who are international visitors that utilise our mountainous terrain on a daily basis, and currently volunteer their intentions through the DOC system). DOC has been ordered not to accept the new forms - the obvious outcome of this is punters will just not bother. We live in a mountainous terrain, where at least 80% of the 2800 intention forms currently submitted per year, are for parties that make up their mind on a particular tramp or mountain route on spec, on the day, based on weather, advice from DOC & other Park users, and current conditions in the Park (everything we want them to do) - just like Mt Cook who would have thought. Mountaineers (many of which are international visitors or Christchurchians) arriving at 2-4am to obtain an alpine start, as is usual, do likewise and often change their minds on their particular route, or indeed mountain on their arrival.

DOC is citing that very few rescues are initiated from the current system, therefore it is superfluous to requirements anyway (I am almost regretting now that I initiated stat keeping primarily to track Park usage patterns for recreation planners - of course this valuable data will also be lost).
  • What is not recorded in the stats, is the number of times local LandSAR & Police follow up on overdue parties (we only record the literal minutes DOC staff were engaged in investigating and passing on concerns to Police or LandSAR for "overdues"), sure they don't raise a P-Number but time of volunteers/Police is certainly utilised (the LandSAR incident recording system does not allow for recording of these smaller events - I have pointed this out).
  • The stats don't point out how many times Police/LandSAR use SAR Cards of other parties to obtain witness reports during SAR incidents (not surprisingly for many parties who didn't provide any intention), without these cards DOC hasn't a shit-show of knowing what other users might be in the Park, or indeed have just left the Park and are still traceable for their valuable information.
  • The stats don't point out how many times DOC has changed a card to reflect a change of intention obtained either through the Park radio system, or other sources; this of course is not possible in the new system (not a lot of faxes, internet booths in the back-country), a search or some other action might be raised in error at considerable expense to the tax-payer.
  • The stats also don't show, that during a SAR raised by a card that the reaction time was prompt (in some cases long before the official 8am next day overdue time because the "human factor" says we care) and the necessary information was at hand to immediately commence an appropriate search response; it didn't have to pass from non-english speaking mum in Czech Republic (who still hasn't quite worked out GMT time conversion that her little Pavel miscalculated in the first place anyway), to Czech Police, to Czech Interpol, to NZ Interpol, to NZ Police, to LandSAR who eventually discover Pavel dead of hypothermia.
  • What is not shown in the stats is the number of times Police SAR have requested we interrogate the paper intention system after-hours to find the whereabouts of a reported missing tramper (either because a relative has become concerned, or the tramper/climber has rang Police via mobile, but is uncertain of their location ie. lost - more common than you think).
  • The stats also don't show that current intentions cards are used in conjunction with hire EPIRBs (hired from DOC) to track individuals partaking multiple trips with those beacons, as RCC will ring DOC and ask the possible location of a particular triggered beacon in the Park (because as we have found time & time again 406 beacons do crazy initial locations in mountainous terrain).
  • The stats fail to show that DOC front-line staff (because they are actually human beings who care) use intentions cards to note and track LKP (last known point) of individuals either by means of the hut radio system or other trampers reporting sightings (this practice has been very helpful in many searches over the years).
We, and the local Police (including Canterbury Police) are absolutely confident the new system will lead to unnecessary fatalities in the Park, for want of DOC not wanting to pay $800 for cards (I'm happy to pay for them out of my own pocket if the Government is so skint or Kate Wilkinson can't scrounge it back out of the $50,000 of DOC funding she gave to Federated Farmers to shoot geese), and the misguided notion that accepting responsibility for the system implies a huge risk to its employees or the organisation (that of course we have been doing now for over 15 years unscathed), or in some way will confuse the punters who have no problem adapting at present to customised systems (not only NZ but throughout the world). It is certainly not about consistency, otherwise Mt Cook would need to tow the line as well.

We have nothing against the new system existing and complementing the current system; although it is not difficult to see how it could easily fail the user in our remote alpine environment in its current format.

In our meeting with Kingsley, attended by Arthur's Pass Rescue members, DOC front-line staff, Local Police (by phone) & myself (Jo public now), the initial circular discussion was how Kingsley's main role in life was to implement policy, and it was his serfs role to do what they are told. He made it clear he cannot influence policy, and therefore would not take concerns from the coal-face back up the feeding chain. After some warm debate, he conceded that yes the "roll-out" was less than desirable on December 1st (he only found out himself middle of last week he says) and therefore we might be permitted to have both systems operate concurrently until the end of the financial year (but now stated as 2nd May 2012). At the end of this period the new system would take over completely after hopefully being tweaked to within an inch of its life. We neither agreed to, or rejected this proposal as Kingsley made it the Field Centre Supervisor's role to implement the roll-out of the new system; what that means I'm not sure as DOC policy wants to wash its hands of any responsibility and therefore is unlikely to install (or finance) a 24hr terminal in the foyer of the visitor centre, that is only part of any solution anyway.

In light of the unpublished DOC policy to remove public access radios from huts in the Park (this has been common knowledge about DOC circles Canterbury for many months now), Kingsley was willing to move against this policy, that leads one to believe it is either a personal policy, or is only one step up the feeding chain and a policy of Canterbury Conservancy and his mates in high places there. [*** turns out it was a Conservancy Policy, and was retracted earlier in day after pressure from within] However DOC West Coast has already removed the vital (from a public safety point of view) Locke Stream Hut radio (Taramakau River) only a week or so ago, so obviously there is no consistent policy across the National Park. He confirmed that ALL track-head intention books are to be removed, but hut books will currently stay (assuming of course the huts stay).

At the end of the day the coroner will decide the intelligence of removing the current intentions system in Arthur's Pass and any further hut radios in Arthur's Pass National Park. As long as the debate, and the various stands of individuals are documented the buck will ultimately stop with some individual or party of individuals should things turn pear-shaped. Problem was a debate was never going to be permitted by DOC, hence my resignation being the only avenue in the short-term to remove the corporate gag DOC places on its employees opinions (being sacked is not a good look normally). As I have indicated to Canterbury Police, my resignation from LandSAR is provisional on a long-term outcome for Arthur's Pass National Park where public safety is not diminished in any way by ill-conceived systems simply for sake of saving a buck or satisfying personal agendas. Certainly I am still available as a willing resource to Police & LandSAR if required.

I am absolutely certain there is much more to be said on this subject, should the surface be scratched a little deeper by those with more investigative talent. This is all about DOC and its "policy".

Regards - Graeme Kates (28/11/2011) -

Further reading


Responsibility for public safety

Who is responsible for public safety issues?
Due to the huge variety of activity that people can be engaged in for work, recreation or living - there is no single agency responsible for, and no single law covering, public safety.

The purpose of the Health and Safety in Employment Act is to promote the prevention of harm to people at work, and other people in places of work or in the vicinity. This means it has an impact on public safety.

There are two main ways that the HSE Act ensures public safety:

Firstly, it requires employers to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction by an employee at work harms any person - which includes a member of the public.

Secondly, it requires a person in charge of a workplace to take all practicable steps to ensure that no hazard harms people in that place, or in the vicinity, including members of the public who are there for recreation or pleasure. Anyone who is concerned about members of the public being exposed to hazards arising from work activities can contact the Labour Department so that, if necessary, the matter can be investigated.

Date Modified: Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Note: this website makes extensive use of Javascript for SPAM protection purposes (email) and more importantly to display "popup windows" for images, notes and feedback forms. Some modern browsers (especially Mozilla Firefox) allow the user to set whether a site has permission to create these windows. If you experience trouble viewing images this is probably the reason, go into your "tools/popup manager" menu and give permission to "www.softrock.co.nz".

SoftRock supports Médecins Sans Frontières. Please consider doing likewise...
Doctors withour borders

Valid XHTML 1.0 TransitionalRuns better on FireFox Powered by Web Drive

| Home | Mountain Cond 1 | Mountain Cond 2 | Avalanche Conditions | Ice Conditions | Snow Conditions | WX Station | WX Chart |
| Satellite Images | WX Forecast | WX Snowfall | Galleries | SAR Reports | Guide Book | Feedback Form | Guest book | Webscape |

This site is designed for 800+ pixel width screen sizes.

Copyright ©2014 by Graeme Kates. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.