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March 2011
Home > Operation Earthquake

City confronts 'new normal'

With a city centre in ruins, thousands of homes left empty, ongoing aftershocks and staff living on their nerves, Canterbury Police staff must redefine ‘normal’.

Christchurch police staff must deal with personal upheaval while protecting their shattered city.
Photo: Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Ten-One

“We have to look at the longer term policing of Christchurch,” says District Commander, Superintendent Dave Cliff. “Our staff have been nothing short of heroic but we’ve got to realise the effects this quake will have on them.

“Anyone who’s been down here will have a sense of the scale of this disaster. But we had police staff digging people out of the ruins by hand. There is lot of intense emotional feeling around what’s happened and we have to accommodate that.”

Police employee Pam Brien was killed in the disaster.

A significant proportion of staff had their homes destroyed or now have extended family living with them, bringing extra pressure. “Normally, if you go through an incident like this you go home to recover. That’s not an option for many,” he says.

Policing services must be 100 percent effective to deal with the earthquake’s repercussions. Information provided after the September quake predicted increases in family violence, fraud and mental health-related policing issues, including suicide. “We need to be prepared for such a likelihood,” says Dave.

Superintendent Dave Cliff fronted daily press conferences during the height of the earthquake crisis.
Photo: NZPA/Dianne Manson

Between 5000 and 10,000 homes are likely to be written off. Residents will be relocated, perhaps into temporary housing. Relationships and support networks will be severely disrupted.

Planning for the new situation began while the rescue phase of Operation Earthquake was still underway.

A need to separate the earthquake response from Canterbury’s business as usual was identified, so Canterbury staff could get back to policing the district.

Operation Earthquake’s headquarters were moved out of Christchurch Central station and into rooms at the newly built YMCA a short drive away at Bishopdale.

Superintendent Andy McGregor now leads Operation Earthquake, which is expected to last several months.

It currently includes elements such as cordons, reassurance patrols, family liaison and disaster victim identification, which will be scaled back as requirements reduce.

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