Under the International Health Regulations (2005), Member States are required to develop capacity in event-based surveillance (EBS). The Papua New Guinea National Department of Health established an EBS system during the influenza pandemic in August 2009. We review its performance from August 2009 to November 2012, sharing lessons that may be useful to other low-resource public health practitioners working in surveillance. We examined the EBS system's event reporting, event verification and response. Characteristics examined included type of event, source of information, timeliness, nature of response and outcome. Sixty-one records were identified. The median delay between onset of the event and date of reporting was 10 days. The largest proportion of reports (39%) came from Provincial Health Offices, followed by direct reports from clinical staff (25%) and reports in the media (11%). Most (84%) of the events were substantiated to be true public health events, and 56% were investigated by the Provincial Health Office alone. A confirmed or probable etiology could not be determined in 69% of true events. EBS is a simple strategy that forms a cornerstone of public health surveillance and response particularly in low-resource settings such as Papua New Guinea. There is a need to reinforce reporting pathways, improve timeliness of reporting, expand sources of information, improve feedback and improve diagnostic support capacity. For it to be successful, EBS should be closely tied to response.