Civil defence has always stressed the importance of individual and community self-reliance. Persuading people to prepare for an emergency can be difficult: many apparently prefer not to think about something that ‘might never happen’. When disasters happen elsewhere, however, people are often shocked into making preparations, such as filling water bottles and assembling emergency items at home and work, and making a plan of action with family members.
Details on how to prepare for and behave in an emergency are given in the back of the yellow-pages telephone book, on the national and regional civil-defence websites, and in regular newspaper and television advertisements. Many Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) regions have a texting (SMS) alert system for disasters to which people can subscribe, and the Civil Defence website provides RSS and Twitter feeds.
Community civil defence
Community civil-defence centres are an important part of the civil-defence system, as they may be the first places that people will go if they have to evacuate their homes. They are based at schools, community centres and marae, and are run by volunteers. These can be people with specialised skills, such as nurses and builders, or general volunteers who help with tasks including communications and welfare.
In cities, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), which locates and rescues people trapped in collapsed buildings or landslides, also relies on volunteers.
Civil-defence exercises often call for people to play the role of ‘casualties’, but sometimes the afflictions of these volunteers have been genuine. In a Marlborough civil-defence exercise of the early 1990s, one volunteer developed mild hypothermia, while another had to be treated for heatstroke.
Education and training
Volunteers receive regular training from their regional CDEM organisation. The ministry’s programme and website for primary and secondary students, ‘What’s the Plan Stan?’, supports the teaching of disaster awareness and survival skills in schools. Advanced training for civil-defence professionals is offered at public tertiary-education institutions, and qualifications range from entry-level certificates through to advanced postgraduate degrees.
Civil-defence exercises have been run since the 1960s, increasing in number and complexity from the 1980s. These test local, regional and sometimes national civil-defence personnel, systems, strategies and equipment in response to a disaster scenario. In addition, rescue teams compete in regular competitions and tournaments.