By Niki Partsch
Any destructive impact on heritage sites often has acute ramifications for the people who connect to the building(s) or place, so we took the opportunity to find out more about the planning underway for when disasters threaten lives, livelihoods, homes, and heritage.
The tiny encampment of little blue tents, perched on bright green spring grass and bathed in warm afternoon sunshine looked almost inviting. But for the emergency management professionals who had been deployed to this training camp four gruelling days earlier, the tents were just somewhere to crawl inside to catch a few winks.
Large shipping containers jam packed with emergency equipment hint at the importance of what is underway. There is a strong connection to the significant climatic disasters that have focussed our attentions in recent times, and those which are forecast to manifest on our horizon.
Three senior Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga staff were part of a group invited to present at this NEMA/EMAT Annual Readiness Training Camp in Ellerslie.
NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency, Te Rakau Whakamarumaru) is the government lead for emergency management. NZ EMAT (New Zealand Emergency Management Assistance Team) is a deployable capability within the emergency management system.
Scott McIntyre, Senior Advisor at NEMA, was instrumental in planning this camp and the activities that focus both on response and prevention planning during a crisis and says the camp is an opportunity to collectively train across the various roles within the response sector.
“The training brought together emergency management professionals and other government agencies to train alongside NZEMAT for austere emergency environments and develop their technical capabilities. Overall, it was an excellent opportunity for our key deployable staff to reconnect, train together, and build professional relationships that will serve them well in the next response.”
By the afternoon of day four the team are feeling the effects of extended mental and physical exertion, exacerbated by sleep deprivation. “We have put the team under a bit of pressure to create conditions similar to a disaster response environment,” says Scott.
After a ration pack lunch, the team are faced with a series of forums and presentations. Their few minutes in the sunshine are overshadowed with the knowledge that a real-time potential state of emergency is brewing in Otago/Southland. This means that instead of boarding their flights home in a few hours, they face deployment directly from the training camp into a developing crisis.
Included in the presentations to this room full of rescuers, were poignant lessons on leadership from Roy Breeze, a former Area Commander for Fire and Emergency New Zealand, and Al Lawn who has a background as a Police Officer and volunteer firefighter and is currently a Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Controller.
Roy has five decades of emergency work under his belt. He speaks candidly about leading under pressure and quickly draws us into the heat and mayhem of a major fire incident. “Most of my career has been to do with command and control,” he says, “you have to think of everything that could possibly happen.”
His vivid first-hand description is of a dangerous and rapidly escalating situation. Roy describes the rising levels of stress as a growing pile of unanswerable questions. Roy describes how to use de-escalation tactics while maintaining communication to bring structure to the chaos.
Al encourages, “Learning crisis management through your daily lives, in preparation for the big one.”
The inclusion of training on heritage and cultural considerations in the training camp is an important first for NEMA, confirms McIntyre. “The support of our cultural institutions to the activity created an excellent opportunity for our key staff to develop their understanding of the wider context and considerations of the place they may be deployed to.”
Te Ara Taonga, an existing network of taonga specialist organisations including Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, bring their experiences of recent heritage recovery and the positive impact of their work on communities. They are here also to brief NZ EMAT on cultural and heritage considerations during emergency responses.
Dean Whiting, Kaihautū at Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, is an experienced materials conservator. He speaks about some of the learning outcomes from Cyclone Gabrielle and welcomes the “Opportunity for understanding what each other does.”
Makere Rika-Heke opens conversations around learning tikanga, understanding mana whenua and knowing who to talk to when making contact at marae. “Let yourself be guided and be confident to ask people what help they need,” she says, also pointing out that people in rural areas often know the land well and their backgrounds often means they can be of significant help to emergency personnel.
Jamie Metzger from Te Papa Tongarewa, speaks about how localised solutions are often the best and explains that “Calling one taonga agency means you get us all.” This is because the network and relationships already exist.
There were some near misses with Cyclone Gabrielle that could have been disastrous. Ellen Andersen who has expertise as a conservator, spoke about how the day-to-day work of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Tonga provides opportunities to build crucial relationships. She describes the steps that can be taken during and after a crisis.
Ellen even manages to rouse some laughter from the team by saying, “This has to be my hardest audience ever, talking to a group who have basically been awake for four days.”