SAR volunteers form emergency response bubble

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Distance learning has taken on a new meaning for Wanaka Search and Rescue (SAR).
Chairman Aaron Nicholson said the volunteer group has been in its own ‘‘emergency response bubble’’ during lockdown and had been given training in using personal protective equipment by Dr Julian Pettit.

Eighteen volunteers were selected to be part of an emergency bubble based at their operational headquarters at Ballantyne Rd.
The volunteers included specialists in alpine, bush, swift-water/canyon and incident management teams.
‘‘We took people who were among our most experienced, who can operate in all environments, who didn’t have vulnerable people at home and who looked to be unexposed to any community transmission at the time lockdown went into effect,’’ Mr Nicholson said.
The group put its headquarters into its own ‘‘lockdown’’, restricting any access to those volunteers in the emergency bubble.

The building interior was sanitised, and callouts were planned to be restricted to two people per response, unless circumstances dictated otherwise.
Personal protective gear was available and the volunteers were familiar and confident in its use, he said.

Protocols were put in place for dealing with those needing help.
They were called out on average every week during summer, and they had developed a comprehensive response plan for the Alert Level 4 restrictions to ensure they could continue to support the police and the rescue co-ordination centre, he said.
‘‘I’m delighted to say we haven’t been needed thus far’’ Mr Nicholson said.
‘‘But we were up and running and ready to respond if people had ignored all the instructions to stay home and out of the hills, and then got into trouble.’’

Wanaka Search and Rescue was one of New Zealand’s busiest all-volunteer back country search and rescue response groups and had received multiple awards for its work, Mr Nicholson said.
‘‘We’re not out of this yet, but it’s been a very useful learning experience for all of us, which has given us a lot of confidence in our ability to cope with these highly unusual situations.’’