Kia ora all,

As you are all aware, Christchurch, New Zealand’s second biggest city, has been devastated by a second major earthquake in five months.  Whereas the first caused considerable damage, because  it was deeper and centred further from the city, and occurred at .4.30 am in the morning when the streets were deserted, there was no loss of life and little injury.

However the second was closer, centred only five kilometres from the city centre, was very shallow, and occurred at lunchtime on a fine busy weekday. Christchurch is a very historic city which has not undergone urban renewal like most modern cities, and has not traditionally been subject to earthquakes of any significant magnitude. Consequently it had many older brick and stone buildings, most of which have collapsed.. Up to 200 people have been buried and hope is fast fading that any will be recovered alive. Hope is still held for what would be a miraculous rescue.

One police employee, a typist from the sexual abuse centre who was in the CTV building receiving compulsory counselling, is missing presumed dead, as is her councillor. She is a full police association member.

The international response has been magnificent, initially with specialist team, mostly Urban Search and Rescue from Australia, Japan, USA, UK, Philippines, China, Taiwan and Japan. Australia also very quickly sent other specialist DVI and other rescue specialists.

Obviously, police from around New Zealand responded, and in the first 24 hours, local and incoming teams worked non stop rescuing live people from the rubble, and sadly, extracting many dead.  Officers I spoke to talk of agonising decisions to leave badly trapped people who required heavy equipment to free,, so they could keep moving to others more easily saved.  Police cars, taxies, and every other sort of vehicle were commandeered  to ferry injured to hospital, the ambulance service being overwhelmed.  Many were saved, but officers are openly talking of people, including children, dying en route. Bearing in mind of course that many of these officers also had homes destroyed and families they could not contact.

A good example of officers actions was those of a sergeant who used to work for me going into the first floor of the famous Christchurch Cathedral, the tower of which had collapsed burying up to possibly 30 people, and carrying a woman to safety.  The cathedral is still too dangerous to re-enter five days later.

Christchurch’s second highest building, a 19 story hotel, is leaning badly and if an aftershock does not bring it down, it will have to be demolished with explosives.  A building across the road from the Christchurch police station, around seven stories high, is in danger in ‘imminent ‘ collapse’. Imminent means it in making loud noises!   Merely dangerous means it will probably collapse in the next decent aftershock.  Many, many buildings are dangerous.

The central city is a square mile and the majority of the building within have significant damage. Many have yet to be cleared not only for danger, but also for potential victims.  Piles of rubble on the street have been cursorily checked by cadaver dogs but still need to be checked for victims. The same is true of collapsed shops and businesses.  You will have no doubt seen footage of two of the worst sites, the Pyne Gould Guiness Building, and the Canterbury Television Building. Both are collapsed multi storey buildings absorbing much of the rescue resource because of the large numbers of victims at each site.

Teams are only now being redirected to smaller collapsed buildings, most two storeys, or even one.

Obviously there is major damage and total loss of services in the outer suburbs, especially the lower socioeconomic eastern suburbs. However, loss of life was minimal so they are having to wait longer for attention and disorder and break down of law and order becomes a major issue.

Cordoning of the whole inner city, and reassurance patrolling of the suburbs becomes a priority for non specialist search and recovery staff.   This requires manpower, pure and simple, and this is where general duty specialist staff become extremely important.  Because it is a national state of emergency, the army can be deployed to both assist on the cordons and patrol, in the company of sworn police officers.

New Zealand’s resources or heavily stretched trying to provide such presence, especially as it is now becoming important to relieve local staff so they can get to their home to begin to rebuild their own lives. At least 100 have completely lost their homes, and many more have homes which are barely livable.  Water and power have been restored to some, but the easy wins have been made in that area.

For this reason, generous offers of assistance from our Australian colleagues have been accepted, and we now have 300 Australian police from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Federal Police who have been sworn in as New Zealand Police Officers patrolling, guarding cordons, and generally assisting their New Zealand colleagues to retain and maintain order in Christchurch.

They were sworn in at a mass swearing in at Canterbury University where they are staying. (such was the scale of the swearing in  ceremony, there are concerns some of the kitchen staff preparing the meal to follow may now be carrying sworn police powers) Levity aside, it was hugely significant as it is the first time Australian Police Officers have policed in New Zealand since before 1840, when NZ was part of the colony of New South Wales.

The Australian officers have been welcomed and are performing their duties outstandingly.   Naturally, there is still a certain degree of ‘fog of war’ as commanders of different phases try to get their taskings and deployments in synch,  Also, because of the fact it is  a state of emergency, civil defence actually have overall control of the operation and their demands are not always compatible with policing but that is becoming sorted. As well, because of the large numbers of foreign nationals missing and killed, there are considerable diplomatic pressure to align with cultural protocols, and much of the inevitable diplomatic puffoonary driven by pressure from home governments.

The operational commander Superintendent Dave Cliff is doing an excellently job,  The Commissioner has rightly resisted pressure to add a layer of rank at the top as it would clearly only add more bureaucracy.  As the overseas police are finding, wide ranging discretion operates at a much lower level in the New Zealand police than most others.

From a police association point of view, myself and the manager of our Association Welfare Fund who manages our insurance, mortgage, holiday home, medical insurance and general welfare services to members travelled to Christchurch immediately after the earthquake and have set up base here. Our local reps have been affected by the quake, and Craig Prior, our local director, is at the heart of the recovery in the DVI team.

We are working closely with police, have been given an office, and I attend the management briefings. We have full access to all members and sites.  Because we are able to cover ground across the whole spectrum of activity, we are able to see issues otherwise missed,  our observations are accepted and acted on..  We are also of course liasing with our fellow associations in.Australia.

The operation will be in place for a very long time. When it officially becomes a recovery, rather than rescue, much control comes back to police. This will mean the services of out of town, and international police, will be required for some time, and already there is talk of further rotations.

In the meantime, thank you all for your support. It really has been moving and overwhelming.  I will endeavour to keep you all informed on progress, but know that as usual, when put to the test, when all around was in chaos, it was police officers who were the ones who took control and started the process of re-establishing order is an ocean of crisis.

In response to your queries, a fund has been established under the New Zealand Police Association Charitable Trust,


Donations from overseas can be made by Telegraphic Transfer Advice which must include all of the following detail:


Beneficiary Address:

Bank: Bank of New Zealand
Branch: Wellington Branch
Branch Address: 1 Willis Street

Account Number: 02-0500-0756808-000
SWIFT Code :              BKNZNZ22

The proceeds will go towards helping police, especially those with insurance issues arising from the previous quake, and helping to get families away from the quake zone over the coming weeks and months.

Regards from a badly rattled, bruised but still beautiful Christchurch,

Greg O’Connor
New Zealand Police Association
PO Box 12344
Wellington 6144
Phone: 64 4 496 6800