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Helicopter Rescue Conference opening: Barker

Helicopter Rescue Conference opening: Barker

Kia Ora koutou.

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be here today to open the 2006 Hoist Operators Conference.

This is the second time the Hoist Operators Conference has been held and the attendee list is impressive!

International attendees are too many to name, but include representatives from Australia's Police, Fire, Defence, Civil Aviation and Helicopter Rescue Services, San Diego's Fire Rescue Department, and the worlds largest helicopter rescue hoists manufacturer, Breeze-Eastern. Kia Ora to all of you.

And a warm welcome also to all those Kiwis in the audience who play such a crucial part of our emergency and rescue services.

As Minister of Civil Defence, and as Internal Affairs Minister with responsibility for Fire Services, I share many of the concerns, and confront many of the same issues as you and your parent organisations. I also want to acknowledge the work of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and the value of its 500 missions each year. Over the past 36 years, the service has performed more than 12,000 rescues.

In New Zealand, our landscape makes us aware of danger. As a former Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, Sir Geoffrey Palmer put it:

"Sometimes it does us a power of good to remind ourselves that we live on two volcanic rocks where two tectonic plates meet, in a somewhat lonely stretch of windswept ocean just above the Roaring Forties. If you want drama - you've come to the right place."

In disaster and emergency situations, helicopter capability is often a necessity for medical evacuation, the supply of essential foodstuffs and survival equipment, and reconnaissance. Many civil defence organisations have employed helicopters, including the Police, Fire services, Defence, Health services, the Ministry of Agriculture and local Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups.

Helicopters have played important roles in response to disasters and emergencies including the February 2004 floods, the Bay of Plenty floods in July 2004, and most recently the (for New Zealand) heavy and long-lasting snowfall in Canterbury.

During the February 2004 flood, helicopters were used in lower North Island to deliver food and survival equipment such as gas cylinders and batteries to people in isolated areas, as well as carrying out rooftop rescues. Similarly, in the recent Canterbury snow event helicopters were used to deliver animal feed and essential foodstuffs to people in isolated areas.

The Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 have also proved to us how important helicopters are in disaster and emergency situations. The assessments received by my Ministry show that in around-the-clock flight operations over a period of seven days of Hurricane Katrina, the US Coast Guard helicopters operating over New Orleans saved 6,470 people, including 4,731 by hoist.

They also saved or assisted thousands of others by delivering tons of food and water to those who could not be moved immediately. So far, our rescues and our disasters have been on a smaller scale, but we do our best to learn from events throughout the world, and make our own contribution where we can by sharing what we have learned.

The message my Ministry gives to New Zealand may be familiar to you, as all the world faces similar emergency management challenges:

One: We are at risk. New Zealand is constantly exposed to the risk of disaster, from air, water, earth and fire. Events in the past few years have convinced us also that risks of war, pestilence and famine can reach any part of the world.

Two: Preparation works. Experience around the world shows that where people are aware of the risks around them and prepare their response, the injuries, damage and subsequent trauma are significantly reduced.

Three: We aren't as prepared as we should be. A survey on New Zealanders' preparedness showed that just six percent of people say they are "very well" prepared. As a government we've committed more than six million dollars to the "Get Ready Get Thru" campaign but there 's still a lot of work to do to raise awareness and understanding.

Throughout the world, years of thought have boiled our understanding of 'what needs to be done' to the 'four Rs' - Reduction, Readiness, Response and Recovery. There is little that can be done by helicopter to reduce hazards themselves, but you are experts in the arts of Readiness, Response and Recovery. You make a great contribution to what might be called the 'one big R': Resilience.

In New Zealand we have just set out on a new approach to Civil Defence Emergency Management. We are a nation of volunteers, and our original Civil Defence organisation was built on a core of volunteers. This is no longer the case. We have realised that at the core of any Civil Defence response there need to be strongly led, trained professionals, working with the right resources, in the right place, and with the right legal powers. During emergencies, we still rely heavily on volunteers. Without them, many lives would be lost, and recovery would be delayed and in some cases impossible. But we now work within a framework that makes volunteer effort far more effective.

We are helped, I believe, by the fact that New Zealand has no state or provincial governments. We have our New Zealand parliament, and government, and we have local government in cities and districts. Professionals and elected representatives from local government are our first and major line of civil defence. They are organised in 16 Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Groups, on which local lifeline utilities and emergency services are also represented. It is their job to handle emergencies in their area - not as the delegated representatives of my Ministry, but in their own right.

While they handle an emergency, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is there to provide support and coordination nationally, but in local disasters or emergencies it is the local people who lead throughout. In a national emergency, the Ministry will take the lead, but it will continue to work through local CDEM Groups. In the case of some emergencies, such as a terrorist attack, or a pandemic, other agencies, such as the Ministry of Health or the New Zealand Police will lead the response.

In all, some 400 agencies are coordinated as part of new Zealand's Civil Defence preparedness. We are putting more resources into civil defence, and doing more to research our risks. I released reports six months ago showing that the tsunami Risk to New Zealand is comparable to our famous earthquake risk. The risk has not changed. Our understanding of the risk has changed - and now so must our readiness, and our plans for response and recovery. We are doing more to inform people about the need to be prepared, and - as we say - have a plan for you and your family.

We now have new legislation, a new CDEM Strategy, a new National CDEM Plan, and have just produced the Guide to the Plan which provides the practical operational details to implement the Plan. The Plan is based on the principle that every agency with a role in managing disasters is expected to understand, plan for, and fulfil that role. The role of the Ministry is to direct the coordination needed to support communities and make the response to any disaster successful. We are committed to improving all this in the light of experience. As you know, every operation has lessons for every following operation. We are committed to learning them.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to open this Conference. It is an honour to be among so many people with a commitment to others. I want to end with the greeting with which I began: Kia Ora. It made up of two Maori words, the first of which is a strong imperative command - and the second, ora, means "life". It is the message you deliver to all those you help and rescue: "have life". Kia Ora.


Ends

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