By 6am on the morning of the 4th, the team had gathered at the Sockburn base. Initially we were advised that we would be deployed to Darfield to assist with the provision of medical care. As more information was obtained, this was no longer required and we were re-directed to the Group Emergency Operations Centre at the Christchurch Art Gallery. Here we played the “hurry up and wait” game. In the initial phase of a disaster, it takes time to decide how best to use resources such as rescue teams.
Early in the afternoon, we were assigned to man police cordons around the central city. There were many building damaged in the CBD, attracting many curious citizens as well as anxious business owners and bemused tourists. With continuing large aftershocks throughout the day, the compromised buildings posed a greater danger than many people realised. Several hours of interacting with the public, combined with our early morning awakening, made for some tired RATS by the end of the day! The final shift for some team members did not end until 9.30pm.
On the first couple of days of our deployment, the team was divided amongst teams led by Task Force members. These groupings combined the Task Forces’ specialist skills with the RATS high angle knowledge and ability to provide height safety for all team members.
It was reassuring to find during the experience, that our training had prepared us so well for what we were facing. Even when faced with situations beyond our specific expertise, we were all able to keep cool, calm heads and find resolutions. All the team adapted their skills to new environments. Most of us had never dismantled chimneys before, but we were all “experts” within a few days. Some of us were even dreaming about chimneys for weeks afterwards!
As much as our tasking related to the structural integrity of the city, we were also concerned about the people. We were deployed in teams of 4 or 5 people, so that there was always someone available to spend time talking with property owners and assess the wellbeing of residents.
During this time we met some incredible people showing great resilience during this difficult time.
Many weeks later, with the debriefs behind us and the aftershocks abating, the team is proud of its response to a disaster in our hometown. We continue to train with increased enthusiasm and confidence, knowing that our skills can make a real difference to a community in crisis.