Multi-agency air response rescues hundreds in Hawke’s Bay

15 February 2023

Maritime NZ’s Rescue Coordination Centre is leading a multi-agency coordination of air resources to respond to requests for assistance due to the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke’s Bay and on the East Coast.

The response team at the Rescue Coordination Centre in Lower Hutt involves Police, St John, the New Zealand Defence Force and Fire and Emergency. The operation is well led on the ground by Fire and Emergency. The operations is being supported in the air by local operators, EMS providers, NH90s from NZDF, and helicopters supporting it from as far away as Otago.

RCCNZ took the lead of the coordination yesterday morning, and has completed over 80 rescue missions over the last 24 hours, involving hundreds of people. A rescue could involving multiple trips and multiple rescues.

Operations Manager Michael Clulow says this has been an incredibly fluid situation, with a range of operators coordinating a significant number of large scale rescues.

"Most of these rescues require a lot of technical expertise and we are proud to be able to support the response to Cyclone Gabrielle with the skills we have at the Rescue Coordination Centre, alongside our search and rescue partners.

Business as usual the Rescue Coordination Centre operates as a 24/7 coordination operation, it focuses on Category 2 Search and Rescue operations. They involve coordinating responses to missing aircraft, responding when emergency locator beacons are activated and off-shore searches within New Zealand’s search and rescue region.

"This means our search and rescue officers have a unique understanding of managing resources, working across partner agencies and triaging incoming jobs.

"While we haven’t previously ran large-scale multi-agency coordination for aviation such as this, we were able to quickly set-up systems to ensure there was clear communication to work collaboratively and get to the people in need.

"Everyone working on the coordination effort across the agencies understands this is a highly stressful and scary situation for those impacted by the floods, and they are at the front of our minds as we undertake our work," Michael Clulow says.

During the coordination of the air response the Rescue Coordination Centre has been triaging incidents, directing assets to jobs, plotting paths for helicopters to check on impacted areas and cold calling people who have been asking for assistance to see whether they have been extricated from flooded areas.

"As well as people, we also need to work through the logistics for such a substantial operation," Michael Clulow says.

"This requires ensuring we have enough fuel and pilots to ensure there is the capacity to continue the work. Fatigue can be a big risk for people undertaking this work, and we need to ensure the people in the air are safe," he says.

The Coordination Centre is also liaising with operators in Gisborne and through our partner agencies to get an understanding about the impact and needs there as well.

The multi-agency team wants to reassure those in Hawke’s Bay and people with family or friends there, it is working as quickly as possible to assist those in need. 

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