Class of 2010: Emergency Volunteers Graduate

25 August 2010

The first class from Wellington's new civil defence volunteer training course is scheduled to graduate in a ceremony tomorrow night (Thursday 26 August, 7.00pm).

Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who will congratulate the 63 graduates and present certificates, says it will be an important milestone on the journey to strengthen and reorganise the Capital City's civil defence and disaster-response capability.

The ceremony, in the Town Hall Council Chamber, is expected to be 'packed' with invitees including friends and family of the volunteers, local MPs and city councillors, representatives from the civil defence emergency management sector and from the emergency services.

The first intake on the new volunteer induction course has been training weekly at the City Council's Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) in Thorndon since April.

Course participants have been trained in:

  • Personal readiness
  • Introduction to civil defence emergency management
  • Health and safety
  • Information management
  • Communications
  • Emergency welfare
  • Standard operating procedures for civil defence centres.

The training has been part of a significant transformation of emergency-management in the city following a reorganisation of WEMO in 2009.

The new courses run hand-in-hand with a reorganisation of the city's network of volunteer-run civil defence centres, which is continuing. The city's long-established network of 37 civil defence centres - many of which had no active volunteers and were virtually out of action - is being reorganised into a network of eight civil defence areas'. 

Mayor Prendergast says she is "proud and heartened that so many people of all ages and from many walks of life have put their hands up to be involved in civil defence volunteering.

"I'd like to say that the groups of volunteers now being trained will never have to deal with the huge responsibility and stress that will accompany a big emergency in Wellington - however we all know that it's not a matter of if their services will be needed - but when."

The City Council's Emergency Preparedness Manager, Fred Mecoy, says the formalising of Wellington's emergency volunteer network is essential if the city is to be able to respond quickly and properly to a major event or disaster.

All prospective Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) volunteers are now required to undergo induction training and complete assessment before becoming authorised volunteers. 

They will be subject to police checks and will have their details and contacts recorded on a central database. They will be issued with Council-endorsed identity cards.

The training doesn't stop at the induction. Under the new system, all volunteers will be asked to take part in at least four 'qualifying' events to keep their skills up to scratch. They must also carry out regular monthly tasks - such as checking equipment. If they choose they can also move on to more challenging training involving NZQA unit standards.

Mr Mecoy says the volunteers will also be expected to be mobile. "We're moving away from the traditional attachment of volunteers to their local neighbourhood. "In a 'local' event - such as a large scrub fire or weather bomb - local volunteers and their families are likely to be caught up in the event so neighbouring volunteers, or even some from across town, will be needed to help out."

He adds that the volunteers will principally run the eight civil defence centres - acting as the local 'eyes and ears' for the Council and emergency services. "We're not expecting these people to be clearing rubble or fighting fires - we want them to be the grassroots intelligence and admin to help the bigger operation run smoothly."

Wellington's Civil Defence Controller, Mike Mendonca, says he is extremely pleased with the rapid way in which the new volunteer network and emergency structures are taking shape.

"Over the past 12 months the new team at WEMO has developed and implemented an excellent training programme and structure. There has been a surge in people signing up for the volunteer course - and many more in the pipeline.

"The new volunteers are all trained to a defined level, and there is a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities and obligations. This is a major step-up for the city's emergency capability - and I want it to continue."

The next induction course starts on Tuesday 14 September. Anyone interested in joining the volunteer network should call the Wellington Emergency Management Office on (04) 460 0650 or email wemo@wcc.govt.nz.