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Tsunami alert good test of disaster relocation

5 May 2006

Tsunami alert good test of disaster relocation protocol

For immediate use

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) said yesterday’s Tsunami alert was a good test of the trust’s new disaster relocation protocol.

Trust CEO Rea Wikaira said while it was a false alarm this time, he was delighted the system worked well.

“At five yesterday morning the nightshift crewman saw the news report that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had issued a tsunami alert for Fiji and New Zealand and he immediately activated the protocol,” Mr Wikaira said.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was readied to be moved and staff were about to be alerted to also move key rescue equipment to higher ground. By that time the alert was withdrawn.

Mr Wikaira said the reality was that a major tsunami or sea-surge event in the Hauraki Gulf will severely affect the helipad and rescue helicopter base at Mechanics Bay.

“We need to be prepared to deal with that so that the rescue helicopter remains available to deal with the aftermath of such an event.”

He said the aftermath of the Boxing Day, 2004; Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake and Cyclone Katrina in New Orleans shows how vital helicopters are to a disaster relief effort.

Mr Wikaira said the disaster relocation protocol was the first part of a wider disaster preparedness project for the provision of rescue helicopter services for the greater Auckland region.

“The trust is creating a helicopter callout, dispatch and coordination plan which will include options for temporary bases, re-fueling and light maintenance facilities.

“In a major disaster more than one helicopter will be needed and we will have to call in rescue helicopters from other areas and use civilian helicopters as well. But, this needs to be well planned for so valuable time is not lost working out who should do what,” he said.

ARHT is also working with Auckland helicopter operator, Helitranz, on how its leading edge live video broadcasting technology can be best used in a major emergency event.

Mr Wikaira said this technology will be a crucial tool for assessing damage and prioritising where help is most urgently needed.

“We want to work out how we can best use it.”

ENDS

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