Civil-defence Volunteers: Give Us a Call

15 June 2009

This is Volunteer Awareness Week (until 20 June) - and it's an opportunity for Wellingtonians to think about taking a role as a civil-defence volunteer - or at least think about whether they, their friends, family and neighbours, are prepared for an emergency.

Mayor Kerry Prendergast says volunteering and individual preparedness will be crucial if the city and region is to quickly bounce back from a major earthquake or other big, disruptive emergency or event.

So she's inviting anyone with an interest in civil defence and emergency management to get in touch with the City Council's emergency management office to register their interest and find out a little more about volunteering.

The phone number is (04) 460 0650 and the email address is info@wcc.govt.nz.

The Council's Civil Defence Controller, Mike Mendonca, says all volunteers are subject to a police check principally because of the public safety and property-security implications involved with a major emergency - especially one involving evacuations.

Volunteers would principally be involved in running civil defence centres around the city - and acting as the local 'eyes and ears' for emergency management office staff and the emergency services.

"Volunteers provide an information flow about what's going on in their neighbourhoods so that the emergency management office can prioritise staff and resources. They are a crucial element of the emergency response."

Mike is in the final stages of hiring a new emergency preparedness manager for the city.

One of the principal roles of the new manager will be to strengthen the city's volunteer network - and raise the profile of civil-defence. "We want to get far more people involved as volunteers, and far more families aware of the need to be prepared for a major earthquake or some other large-scale emergency."

This year's Phoenix regional civil defence exercise, scheduled for November, will fully involve the city's civil-defence volunteers and will be followed by a formal debriefing process that will allow volunteers to make their views known.

Mike also intends to make the maximum possible use of Disaster Awareness Week, in October. "We'll be coming up with a few nice ideas for publicity. The opportunity is too good to miss."

Mike is confident that a review of the city's civil-defence centre network - and the new emergency-preparedness manager's role - will enable initiatives to improve the support of the volunteer networks.

"It'll mean we can introduce training programmes, events and resources that will help make civil-defence volunteering more meaningful and interesting."

Issues like the advent of apartment-living in Wellington's central business district and the resulting big surge in the central-city population in recent years are a challenge in terms of emergency preparedness, Mike says. "We now have thousands of people, a quite-transient population, who might not know what to do or where to go in the event of a big quake or other emergency. We're going to have to do some creative thinking about how to help these people to help themselves get prepared and survive a major emergency."

Volunteer Awareness Week provides New Zealanders with a chance to acknowledge the excellent work done by our many volunteers and discover opportunities to get involved in their communities.

Volunteer Awareness Week is a great time for first-timers to give volunteering a go - whether it be in sport, the arts, civil defence, visiting the elderly or simply helping a neighbour. The number of different voluntary roles available is vast, so there is something for everyone! And anyone can be a volunteer - no matter their age, race or gender. To find out more about some of the volunteering opportunities available, visit the VolunteerNow website or call
0800 VOL CNTR.