Rats.co.nzSpecialist First Response Team to the Canterbury Region


Canterbury Earthquake


<p>Geoff giving Response Teams a briefing at the Woolston USAR Base</p>
The RATS team, since its inception, has always been prepared for the unexpected. The unexpected certainly came to us in the early hours of September 4th, when we were shaken out of bed by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. We were deployed over the next week and a half to help our fellow Cantabrians, but luckily with no need to employ our medical training.


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.


<p>Helen and Victor (from another response team) with some children whose house has been damaged.</p>
Over the next week and a half, while the state of emergency was still in force, the RATS team were deployed from the Task Force base at Woolston fire station. During this period we worked with various members of the Task Forces (from Christchurch, Palmerston North and Auckland) and response teams from around the country to secure and make safe buildings around the city. This mostly involved securing or dismantling chimneys, removing parapets, removing rubble from ceiling spaces, doing initial building inspections and cordoning unsafe areas before requesting structural engineering advice.


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.

Beyond the first few days, the response teams were divided into small groups and continued with similar work. RATS members often led these groups made up of members from a number of response teams. Being deployed alongside the other teams was a great experience.

Standardised national training allowed us to work together even though we initially didn’t know one another well. The great attitudes of all the volunteers and a willingness to get the job done made for a positive experience in the midst of a very stressful time for all.
<p>Bronwyn and other response team members working on stabilising a chimney</p>


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.

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Updated Wednesday, 22 December 2010