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Wellington Mayor congratulates new emergency volunteers

13 April 2012

Mayor congratulates new emergency volunteers

More than 40 new civil defence volunteers graduated on Tuesday night (10 April) in a ceremony in the Town Hall – bringing to almost 300 the number of new volunteers now stationed around the city.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, on hand to congratulate and present certificates to the volunteers, said they are helping to make Wellington a better – and safer – place.

She also acknowledged that the recent disasters including the February 2011 Christchurch quake have raised awareness about the need for communities to be better prepared for major emergencies.

“I take the safety of the community very seriously,” says Mayor Wade-Brown. “People all over the country do understand the value of civil defence more than they used to.

“Council is also strengthening buildings and making our city more resilient. Volunteers are a huge part of a resilient city and their training will make them effective and confident.”

Mayor Wade-Brown also presented certificates to some newly-trained recruits to the Wellington Emergency Response Team, which trains weekly on urban search and rescue (USAR) techniques. The team was also presented with a Certificate of Appreciation by Keith Evans from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management for their contributions towards the response effort in Christchurch last year.

Tuesday night’s group of graduates were from two classes at the end of last year and the latest group which finished just a couple of weeks ago. The volunteer training course is run by WEMO – Wellington City Council’s emergency management office based in Thorndon. All completed a programme that involves one night of training a week over a seven-week period.

The graduates have been armed with knowledge of general emergency preparedness, civil defence emergency management (CDEM), emergency welfare, radio communications, CDEM structures and legislation and civil defence centre operations.

Mayor Wade-Brown told the graduates: “I’m delighted in the cosmopolitan nature of our volunteers tonight, so our city’s diverse communities can be closely linked to a civil defence response.”

Volunteer training has been under way in the city since April 2010 and the latest group takes the total trained to date to 272 volunteers.

The City Council’s Emergency Preparedness Manager, Fred Mecoy, says the intention is to train up to 1000 volunteers so they could provide help in emergencies right across the city and, indeed, the region.

All prospective Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) volunteers are required to undergo induction training and complete assessment before becoming authorised volunteers.

They will be subject to Police checks and will have their details and contacts recorded on a central database. They will be issued with Council-endorsed identity cards.

The training doesn’t stop at the induction; all volunteers will be asked to take part in at least four ‘qualifying’ events - two of which must be exercises - to keep their skills up to scratch. They also participate in regular monthly tasks, such as checking their local civil defence equipment and radio communications.

If they choose, they can also move on to more involved tasks such as helping with training, exercise development and the like. But the majority will simply donate the few hours a year that’s asked of them. Mr Mecoy is keen to stress that CDEM volunteering is not a ‘lifestyle choice’. “Some people choose to make a hobby out of it but most just have it as a skill in the background for the unlikely event they’re needed, and that’s exactly what we're hoping for.”

Mr Mecoy says the volunteers are expected to be mobile. “We moved away from the old attachment of volunteers to their local neighbourhood only with the result that people are far more interested in getting involved and far more likely to stick around than ever before.

“And we’re pleased that our volunteers are increasingly becoming ‘agents of preparedness’. That is, they get involved in local community events to help educate the public about emergency preparedness, affording us a far greater reach than would otherwise be possible. We are very grateful for that.”

The friendly atmosphere on Tuesday was also very apparent. “One of the beneficial spin-offs we’ve noticed is the number of friendships that are made between volunteers during their training together” These relationships and connections are beneficial to the community not just during an emergency, but for everyday life too.

He adds that volunteers, in the event of an emergency, act as the local ‘eyes and ears’ for the Council and emergency services. “We’re not expecting these people to be clearing rubble or fighting fires – we want them to be the grassroots intelligence and admin to help the bigger operation run smoothly.”

The next induction course starts in May. Anyone interested in joining the volunteer network should call the Wellington Emergency Management Office on 460 0650, email wemo@wcc.govt.nz or visit Facebook.com/wemonz.

ENDS

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