Our six Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) personnel are on their way back to New Zealand after successfully completing their multi-agency mission led by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) at the site of a devastating landslide in Papua New Guinea.

The Fire and Emergency team was led by Aaron Waterreus and included John Herriott, Dan van Hoppe, USAR Engineers Jan Kupec and John Seward, and USAR Medic Teneale Hatton.

They were working in challenging conditions to carry out geotechnical assessments of the remote slip site, where several hundred people are believed to have died. The work was requested by the Papua New Guinea Government and included geotechnical assessments of the landslide and surrounding area. The team identified areas at high risk of further slips and movement of debris from slips, and provided technical information to support decision making by authorities regarding next actions, such as the need for further evacuation of communities living downstream from the slip.

Ensuring the safety of our team posed its own set of challenges and required additional security measures to be put in place in case of disorder.

Ian Duncan, who is both National USAR Manager and National and International Response Manager for Fire and Emergency, says the National Coordination Centre (NCC) was kept particularly busy supporting this deployment because of the technical and diplomatic complexities of operating in a challenging environment.

The NCC coordinated all the arrangements for the deployment, with senior leaders at times embedded in MFAT’s Emergency Operations Centre to ensure seamless decision-making. The same people were supporting USAR’s International Reclassification exercise two weeks ago.

NCC has also been supporting a pre-arranged needs assessment visit to Vanuatu by Otago District Manager Phil Marsh and Group Manager Craig Geddes.

Ian Duncan thanked all the people who made themselves available, and their managers who released them to work in the NCC over the last two weeks. “The team we deployed couldn’t have got out the door to carry out this critical mission without the support of the people who came into the NCC.

“NCC isn’t permanently staffed so they have all set aside their day jobs to volunteer for a role in support of this deployment. I’m grateful to them and to their managers for releasing them.”

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