In New Zealand we are constantly exposed to the risk of disaster. These risks present themselves in a variety of different forms. Floods, earthquakes, storms, tsunami and technological disasters affect communities in New Zealand every year.
The Honourable Geoffrey Palmer summed it up when he said:
It sometimes 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.
When emergencies occur on a scale too great to be dealt with by the emergency services in the normal way, then a Civil Defence organisation is needed.
How did it all begin?
Sir Winston Churchill once said:
The need for an effective system of Civil Defence is surely beyond dispute. It presents itself today in its noblest aspect - namely the Christian duty to help fellow mortals in distress. Rescue, salvage and ambulance work have been the core of Civil Defence and no city, nor family, nor any honourable man or woman, can repudiate this duty and accept from others, help which they are not prepared to fit themselves to render in return.
In New Zealand, Civil Defence had its beginnings as a result of the 1929 Murchison earthquake and 1931 Napier earthquake. The passage of the Public Safety Conservation Act in 1932 was in part a response to the difficulties that were experienced in responding to those two large earthquakes.
In 1939 the "Emergency Precautions Scheme" (EPS) was designed to meet emergency conditions arising from enemy attack, epidemics, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Many local authorities undertook enlistment drives, urging women and men not liable to military call up to become involved.
Earthquakes present the most significant hazard to South Canterbury as well as other parts of New Zealand. We do not experience them very frequently but they have the most capacity to cause widespread damage.
Of all the earthquake sources that can affect Canterbury the Alpine Fault is the most studied. It is capable of generating a very large earthquake which will affect much of the South Island. It will produce the strongest earth shaking experienced in South Canterbury since European settlement. Of course, there are other known fault lines in South Canterbury (and probably some we do not know about). Earthquakes are a very real hazard and their occurrence must be planned for.
Civil Defence relies heavily on volunteers. Remember Civil Defence usually swings into action when the professional emergency services are unable to cope with the size of the event. Given that, it is up to trained volunteers to assist where they can. This could include organisations such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Order of St John, service clubs, church groups etc. Some of these organisations perform specialised functions. For example, Red Cross has a national agreement to cloth people, and Salvation Army to feed people.
Civil Defence trains its own volunteers too. They are trained to work in all kinds of areas, from the "hands on" level, up to management. The work covers: