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March 2011
Home > Operation Earthquake

Communications Centre keeps calm and carries on

Lockers tipped over, a television crashed to the floor, water slopped from the fish tank and fire alarms wailed in the Southern Police Communications Centre.

Centre Manager, Inspector Kieren Kortegast (KK) was in an office at the rear of the centre when the quake hit. “I belted through to the centre. Staff were under desks, on desks, over desks – their eyes were like bloody saucers,” he says.

Within a minute of the quake ending, staff dusted themselves off and focused on a flood of 111 calls and radio communications.

“There were reports of collapsed buildings, fires, people being trapped... it was mayhem and chaos, and that’s probably about a quarter of what was going on out there,” he says.

Jayne Bell was the Channel 1 dispatcher. “I remember people running and panicking and being asked so many times, ‘Are you alright?’ But I still had my headset on and people were talking to me so I just kept dispatching. Every time there was an aftershock I had to hold my screens so they didn’t slide off the desk – I had to ask people to just wait a minute.”

“I had to hold my screens so they didn’t slide off the desk,” says Channel 1 dispatcher Jayne Bell.
Photo: Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Ten-One

Emergency 111 call volume nearly doubled for the 24 hours after the quake, with 3000 calls being received compared with a forecast of 1800 for a normal Tuesday and Wednesday. There were also several spikes where triple the expected volume came in at once.

Overloading on the telephone networks in Christchurch activated the Business Continuity Plan, which saw all calls diverted to the other two communications centres in Wellington and Auckland.

Districts picked up some dispatching for a few days after the quake to allow South Comms to focus their efforts on supporting the rescue operation in Christchurch.

The high volume of calls resulted in more than 1000 jobs waiting to be prioritised and dispatched. The information in some of these jobs had to be escalated to other agencies.


Through it all South Comms staff kept on keeping on.

“South Comms staff deserve a major pat on the back for getting on with the job that had to be done on behalf of the people of Christchurch,” KK says.

“This is what policing is all about. We are the last bastion of sanity – we stay when everyone else goes.”

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