With South Canterbury likely to be geographically isolated in the event of an Alpine Fault earthquake, local emergency response groups are seeking to boost response team numbers.
Both the Red Cross and Civil Defence disaster response teams say they need more members.
Timaru District Council emergency management adviser Lamorna Cooper said retaining adequate numbers of volunteers was an ongoing challenge.
“All the information shows that most of our communities are likely to be geographically isolated in that event, so it means a lot of the initial response is only going to come from within these communities, and most of the people responding will be volunteers.”
Ms Cooper said she would like to have at least six more members across Civil Defence teams, particularly in the response team, which would operate as a general rescue team in an emergency.
Red Cross South Canterbury disaster welfare support deputy team leader and national youth representative Casey Glover said the Red Cross team had nine active members at present.
“We can operate with nine, but the ideal, to be able to work on a 24-hour roster, would be to have at least 20.
“If we’ve only got a small number of people, they’re going to burn out quicker because they’re working longer hours, and we won’t be able to field 24/7 shifts. If we can put 10 people in a welfare centre rather than five, it halves the load.
“The Red Cross youth panel’s goal over the next 12 months is to recruit, and change the perception of the organisation.”
While some people felt they were not physically fit enough for such work, much of the Red Cross’s role was now in outreach, providing emotional support and operating welfare centres.
“If you can walk around the block knocking on doors, you can go and do outreach.”
Civil Defence response team members needed to be physically fit, able to commit to weekly training sessions and undertake unit standard training.
Ms Cooper said in planning for emergency events it had to be taken into account 40%-60% of volunteers might not be available on the day, so it was important to have extra members.
“In order to maintain our capability, we need additional volunteers. I’d like to be 40% up on what we are now.”
Mr Glover said Timaru received Ministry of Youth Development funding to run a Youth in Emergency Services (Yes) course for local high school pupils recently.
While the Red Cross was the lead agency, Civil Defence, St John and Fire and Emergency NZ were also involved in running the Yes programme, in which nine pupils undertook training and then took part in a “live” training exercise on Saturday.
“After they do the exercise, the only thing asked of them is that they do three months of their volunteer time with one of the organisations involved, and hopefully that will help with recruiting.”
While only six pupils attended the final inter-agency training day, they found it helpful to put what they had learned into action.
Participant Craighead Diocesan pupil Catriona Macgregor (16) said it was “nice to be able to put it all together” after training with the groups.
Other Yes participants said it had been great to learn about the various agencies and how they worked by themselves as well as in collaboration with other organisations.
All the agencies that attended said they wanted more inter-agency training events for Timaru, to support younger people training for emergency services volunteer groups and to promote communication and collaboration between the groups.