USAR says changes made since CTV operation

6:40 pm on 2 November 2012

New Zealand's manager for the Urban Search and Rescue has told an inquest changes have been made to its chain of command since the CTV rescue operation.

The hearing in Christchurch is focusing on eight people who survived the central city building's collapse in the earthquake on 22 February last year, but later died when they could not be reached by rescuers.

USAR has previously been criticised for slowing down the initial response when its members arrived at the scene, with witnesses saying they prevented some people with skills on offer from helping with the rescue.

But Jim Stuart-Black, its national manager for special operations, told the hearing that its members had to make sense out of the chaos at the scene and it takes time to implement an organised chain of command following a disaster such as the CTV disaster.

Mr Stuart-Black said changes had been made to the chain of command.

"Since the 2011 earthquake, New Zealand USAR has developed a number of new operational policies and guidelines. By training and exercising as one taskforce, operating practices have been streamlined.

"At a local level, the first layer of the rescue response is undertaken by paid and volunteer firefighters."

Mr Stuart-Black said within one to two hours of making a decision to call off rescue efforts, someone told him that signs of life had been heard at the CTV site.

He said he recommitted USAR personnel to the site, wondering if he was leaving people to die elsewhere.

Mr Stuart-Black said although international teams could not believe they were returning, he felt it was the right thing to do and it was an "entirely emotional decision".

However, no further survivors were found.

USAR member describes 'chaotic' site

USAR team member David Berry described the site of CTV building in the hours after its collapse as chaotic, with no one in charge and no health and safety measures in place.

Mr Berry was one of the first of the team to arrive at the building and told the hearing on Friday he did a full inspection of the site and found there were emergency services scattered all over it and no chain of command operating.

He said he was not in charge of the CTV building rescue operation, despite other witnesses at the site claiming that he was viewed as the head officer.

Mr Berry said he was there as a member of the USAR team and was not acting in his other role as a senior officer in the Fire Service.