Christchurch Earthquake Feb 2011

On Feburary 22 at 12:51pm a large earthquake struck close to Christchurch. The faultline that caused this quake was previously unknown and located under the picturesque Port Hills which overlook Christchurch. The two sides of the fault moved past each other about 1.5M and have caused approx 40cm height increase in the hills.


The effect of this earthquake on residential properties and the CBD of CHCH was widepread and devastating. Due to the damage and timing of this quake initial priority was put on the CBD of Christchurch.


Christchurch has the largest number of operational dogs in NZ and the handlers available immediately took actions to make themselves available for deployment. Brenda headed to toward the USAR base with her three operational dogs, Boss, Keepa and Easy- what would normally be a short drive took ages due to traffic congestion and liquifaction damage to the roads. She walked the last section and met up with one of the Taskforce Techs and headed into town with her dogs in his 4WD vehicle. Tim picked up his children from school and dropped them home before heading into town with Boo, firstly heading to the Fire Station. Linda headed home to pick up Buk and Que and also fought with traffic before making it to town via Base with her dogs ending up with her riding in a fire truck. This was the start of what was to be the largest deployment of USAR and USAR dogs in NZ history, and for these handlers the beginning of a very long 30+ hours searching for survivors. Janelle was in Wellington and was busy making plans for a flight home- she ended up on a charter flight bring medical equipment as commercial airspace was all suspended. Kirsty and Sara with Tommy and Sasha were also being deployed from Auckland.


There was two complete building collapses in the CBD- the PGC buidling and the CTV site. In addition the top floor of the Press building in the square had collapsed and the iconic cathedral also in the square had a major collapse in Bell Tower, a popular tourist attraction. Dozens of additional buidlings had suffered serious damage and many people were injured, some fatally, by falling masonary and building facades.


Brenda, Linda, Tim and Janelle and their dogs, with brilliant support from Ben and ex handler Malcolm, worked throughout the night and with an hours break in the early hours on a floor being shaken by aftershocks, carried on throughout the next day knowing their window of opportunity to find survivors was limited. Kirsty and Sara and Craig (freshly back from Australia and reunited with Lewis) rested as best they could so they could carry on and do nightshift Wednesday night.


Over the next week or so the teams searched over 80 sites, mainly within the CBD but also in Sumner, and some outlying suburbs including 2 large shopping malls. There was several successful finds by the dogs, in very challenging situations.


In addition to the NZ Dogs, USAR K9 teams from Australia, Japan and Singapore responded.

An initial USAR dog debrief was held as part of the National Training Weekend and while there are lots of lessons to be learnt, overall we are incredibly proud and pleased with the performance of dogs, handlers, helpers and other USAR SDA members who played their vital support role.


Our thoughts are with the affected families of the vicitms of the CHCH earthquake,

Kia Kaha- Stay Strong


Canterbury Earthquake 2010

On Saturday 04 September 2010 at 0435 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the South Island of New Zealand, centered 40 kms from Christchurch. Christchurch is home to the Southern Training Group of the USAR Search Dog Association and has the largest number of operational USAR search dogs in the country. These handlers are all members of NZ-TF2, also based in Christchurch. Within a hour of the quake two senior handlers, Brenda Woolley and Graham Joseph, and their operational dogs Boss, Easy, Keepa and Tala, were at the base of USAR Taskforce 2 and ready for deployment. Other operational handlers, Tim Drennan (Boo) and Janelle Mackie (Cairo) had made contact and were available if and when required. This would have given a total of 6 operational dogs and 4 handlers.


Brenda and Graham were in some of the teams sent into the CBD of Christchurch and as the sun rose that morning, and the aftershocks continued the true scale of the damage became more evident. What was even more obvious was how incredibly lucky the people of Christchurch and Canterbury had been with the timing of this significant earthquake. Footpaths that just hours earlier would have been filled with people where now strewn with bricks and building facades; shops, restaurants and bars normally crammed with people were crammed with building debris and displaced fitting and furniture. Brenda received a couple of taskings for her dogs to follow up some reports of people, but otherwise the timing again meant there was limited buildings were people would be trapped. Much of the damage was to Unrenforced Masonary Buildings rather than full building collpases.


While Graham and Brenda worked in the CBD of Christchurch other handlers, their dogs and USAR SDA members prepared to mobilise from around NZ with their USAR Taskforces to assist in Canterbury. An Airforce Hercules left Auckland with Nikki, Tania and Sara with operational dogs Vader, Mocha and Sasha, and other members of NZTF3 on board. Brendon and Kirsti left Auckland by road to transport cache to Palmerston North. Lois joined the Herc with other TF1 members. This was the largest mobilisation of USAR resources in the history of Urban Search and Rescue and New Zealand. Ironically a large TF mobilisation exercise was being planned for November this year …


NZ USAR was fully activated for 12 days undertaking a variety of task including building assessments, building stablisation, chimney removal and reconnaissance. Members of USAR SDA, now including Linda, Craig and Anne were involved as Taskforce members in a variety of ways including hanging off cranes to remove chimneys, climbing ladders onto house roofs, and importantly undertaking their support role at base which includes logistics support, cleaning and catering…basically anything to keep the Taskforce working.


There will be many lesson to be learned from the Canterbury Earthquake, but overall the response was considered efficient and effective including having operational USAR dogs available immediately, with other operational dogs coming from throughout the country within hours to provide additional capacity in case required- exactly what the USAR SDA was set up to provide.


South Auckland House Collapse 2009

On June 27th 2009 a digger excavating at a South Auckland marae site apparently slid on a bank, flipped and crashed into a house being stabilised after being moved recently to the site. Several workers were trapped. Sara and Sasha and Tania and Mocha responded as part of Taskforce 3. Both dogs searched the site and combined with the technicians and Police dog were able to establish there were not additional people trapped.


Gisborne Earthquake 2007

On December 20th 2007 at 2055hrs a 6.8M earthquake struck 40km off shore of Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island. Thankfully the heavy rain in Gisborne meant many Christmas shoppers had stayed away from the CBD and diners were not outside the many cafes and restaurants. Several buildings collapsed while others suffered structural damage with real possibility of further collapses. Taskforce One responded from Palmerston North including Sue Chesterfield and her dog Nugget. While en route information indicated that no one was trapped or missing, but Nugget and Sue remained on site as the Technicians and Engineers worked to stabilize buildings because of the risk of further collapse.


Greymouth Tornadoes 2005

On 10 March 2005 at about 1pm a tornado swept through the west coast town of Greymouth causing extensive damage to commercial premises, houses, vehicles and infrastructure. Members of USAR Taskforce 2 responded that day including three dog handlers and their dogs. The dogs were used in one building and were able to confirm no one was present without further commitment of rescue resources. The dog handlers worked hard in their secondary role of Taskforce Support assisting with logistics, communications and basically anything else that needed doing.


Cashel Chambers 2005

On Sunday 23 January 2005 a large fire broke out in the Cashel Chambers building in central Christchurch. The effects of the fire and the water used for fire fighting meant this building became very unstable and collapsed with some assistance from heavy machinery to control the area affected. The building was vacant but there was some concern that a street kid who had been living there was unaccounted for. Brenda Woolley with Milo and Easy, and Linda Pike and Mij responded at the request of their Taskforce Leader and undertook search work over two days on the rubble surface and into the building where it was deemed safe.




USAR Dogs NZ History

The USAR Search Dog Association held it inaugural meeting on the 2nd August 2003 in Wellington. Before this time there were a limited number of individuals and groups training disaster search dogs around the country ...

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USAR Membership

The NZ USAR Search Dog Association is an Incorportated Society. The Association has a Management Committee chosen from its members with a President taking the lead role.An Association Coordinator runs the USAR SDA day to day and it is the first point of contact for enquiries.Please see the Committee and Contacts section.

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