Army of Civil Defence Volunteers Grows

7 June 2011

A further 53 new civil defence volunteers in Wellington will graduate tomorrow (Wednesday 8 June).

They represent the third and fourth groups to graduate since the Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) started the volunteer induction programme in April last year.

Prior to that, the city had only about 40 volunteers, but since there was no training programme in place at that time, measuring the actual skills capability was unknown. That number has now increased to 130, with a further two groups due to complete their training within the next few weeks.

Tomorrow's event will take place in the Council chambers on the first floor of the Town Hall, from 6.30pm.

As part of last year's restructure, volunteers are now trained centrally by WEMO rather than going through one of more than 30 civil defence groups formerly scattered throughout the city. Records of all volunteers and their level of training are now held centrally and volunteers can be mobilised more quickly.

"We are vastly better prepared than we were a year ago," says Mayor Celia Wade-Brown - who holds the Council's Emergency Management Portfolio.

"The most fundamental change has been going from 37 separate groups across the city to a single organisation of volunteers for the city.  So we now recruit, train and mobilise volunteers from WEMO.

"It's a great pleasure to be able to hand out graduation certificates to such a large and motivated group of people."

The City Council's Emergency Preparedness Manager, Fred Mecoy, says the Christchurch quakes in many ways confirmed WEMO's thinking was correct on what the city's CDEM volunteer network needed to look like.

"We deployed volunteers to Christchurch after both quakes. They took on key roles during both events - including support roles here in Wellington in February. This would not have been possible under the old system as very few volunteers had had any training and were therefore somewhat of an unknown quantity.

"Under the new system, we know what each volunteer has been taught and what they are capable of in terms of their skills and experience.  We also now have processes in place to capture that information - something that wasn't there before.

"It also would be fair to say that the average age of a Wellington CDEM volunteer has been reduced by at least 20 years, and the education level has increased. We now have a vast and increasing pool of young, energetic, educated and enthusiastic people to draw upon in the event of a large emergency.

"That is not to say that we have anything against older volunteers, but previously it was very much the domain of a certain demographic.  We have gone to great trouble to make CDEM volunteering appeal more widely."        

Before graduating, course participants learn a range of skills including personal preparedness (you need to look after yourself and your family first), two-way radio communications, and civil defence centre procedures. Training is run over seven sessions, with a variety of schedules in order to meet varying availabilities.

Mr Mecoy hopes over the next 3 - 4 years to establish a community army of 800 - 1000 trained Civil Defence Emergency Management volunteers in Wellington.