“Keep Moving Forward”: Preparing for a Mass Rescue Operation in New Zealand

Posted in LIFELINE December 2016 - English Version

"If you can’t fly then run," said Martin Luther King: "If you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."

King’s words are appropriate to our work in SAR, says Geoff Lunt of IMRF Members Maritime New Zealand’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC NZ); especially in regards to mass rescue operations (MROs). No matter what your limitations are, you must do as much as you can to improve and prepare. Here Geoff shares New Zealand’s work over the last four years in improving MRO response.

JRCC NZ has a very large Search and Rescue Region (SRR), with 30 million square kilometres to look after and a diversity of areas from sub-tropical to temperate and polar climates. The SRR has large areas of ocean, remote from landmass, which presents challenges for rescuers to access those in distress.


The vast New Zealand SAR Region.

Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in tourism in our SRR, especially in the number of cruise ships visiting not just New Zealand but Antarctica and the Pacific Islands. The challenges that this provides to the New Zealand SAR authorities in the event of MRO are colossal. Even a minor incident that may require evacuation could easily overwhelm a small Pacific nation.

In order for an MRO to be carried out effectively it is vital that all agencies involved are aware of the role they, and others, are expected to play during the operation. To ensure that MROs within New Zealand’s SRR are well coordinated, the New Zealand Search and Rescue Secretariat (NZSAR) have prepared a strategic MRO policy document. This notes that, while overall ownership of an MRO will sit within Government at the highest levels, the responsibility for developing and maintaining MRO readiness plans lies with the two SAR coordinating authorities, JRCC NZ and NZ Police.

NZSAR, JRCC NZ and NZ Police have worked together to develop a National MRO plan to be used for all MRO events where the survivors are likely to be landed on New Zealand’s shores, including any transfer of survivors from vessels of opportunity. Once the National MRO plan has been activated for incidents near to New Zealand, it is likely that the NZ Police will assume overall responsibility and become the Response Coordinator. The coordinating authority for the SAR component of the MRO would be discussed, but most likely will be managed by JRCC NZ.

For MRO incidents away from New Zealand itself, in Antarctica or around the Pacific Islands, the same plan is to be used, but consideration will need to be given to the role of the overall Response Coordinator.

For example, in an incident close to the Cook Islands the role of the Response Coordinator may be better suited to the Cook Islands Police with NZ Police support.

The plan has several key functions:

To set out the national command, control, coordination and communication structures for a close-to-shore marine MRO. This includes identifying the lead agencies for various stages of the response and detailing the specific functions and contact details for each of these lead agencies.
To set out the regionally specific command, control, coordination and communication structures for an MRO. This includes identifying which agencies will take up what specific roles and functions as detailed in the plan.
To provide information on the regional resources that might be utilised during an MRO along with regionally specific information like possible landing sites.

A series of phased tabletop exercises have been planned, using the ‘crawl, walk and run’ methodology, which suits our aims in achieving a robust plan and response to incidents of this type:

Crawl  – Educate
Walk  – Test
Run  –  Full scale live exercise

Exercise Rauora II:
Emergency Operations Centre at Rotorua.
The first phase of exercises, “Rauora I”, commenced in 2014 and was completed by March 2016.

The aim was to test the command and control structure of each of the twelve Police Districts – 9 in the North Island and 3 in the South – and their respective Regional SAR Plans for a MRO. The next phase, “Rauora II”, has commenced, with the first two exercises being completed in October.

The exercise aims are to test arrangements for responding to mass rescue incidents in each of the Police districts, using their respective Regional MRO SAR Plan; to test JRCC NZ’s response, including the internal logistical planning required for additional personnel, equipment etc., whilst still maintaining business as usual; and to assess the JRCC NZ systems and processes in handling large volumes of information and communications.

Forward4Moving forward, the long-term aim will be to implement the ‘Run’ phase and conduct a live MRO exercise sometime in 2019, involving multiple agencies and volunteers.

A program will also be developed for continuity training and refresher exercises, updating MRO plans including appendices for Pacific Island and Antarctic responses.

Photo top: Geoff Lunt in the JRCC NZ Operations Room, and the vast New Zealand SAR Region.

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