New command unit in Dunedin and ready to go

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Building resilience . . . St John coastal Otago territory manager Doug Third inspects a computer system in a new command unit in South Dunedin last week. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A new emergency command unit is in Dunedin and waiting for its first callout.

St John coastal Otago territory manager Doug Third, of Dunedin, said the diesel Mercedes-Benz unit would be deployed to big events or major emergencies, such as earthquakes, major flooding, or multiple-patient crashes, to ensure reliable communication between crew on the ground and emergency communication centres.

If a major incident did not occur, its first outing would be the Queenstown International Marathon in November.

The unit would be used to deploy staff to treat runners who could have health issues, such as hypothermia, heat exhaustion or cardiac arrest.

The unit was also booked to attend New Year’s Eve music festival Rhythm and Alps in Cardrona Valley near Wanaka.

At past major events or emergencies, St John staff and volunteers were co-ordinated from a tent, a shed, or the back of an ambulance, he said.

Communication centres . . . The three St John command units deployed to Dunedin, Rotorua and Auckland. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“Now we have a purpose-built office to do it from – it’s a good work space to plan, react and communicate from. You’re lost without communications.”

Gear in the back of the unit includes a generator so it can run off-grid, and car jacks to stabilise the unit to ensure a stable satellite internet connection from the dish on the roof if 3G and 4G networks are down.

Other communication technology includes satellite telephones, VHF and UHF fixed and portable radios and a Freeview satellite TV to monitor breaking news.

A second screen allows staff to monitor where St John ambulance vehicles are in the South in real time.

The walls of the units are clad with whiteboard, so information can be quickly written down.

The unit was not an ambulance and could not transport patients, but has gear including a defibrillator and an oxygen supply to use in an emergency.

base for the unit, which serves Otago and Southland, because it would be more likely to be able to be deployed from the city than inland southern locations after a major earthquake on the Alpine fault, Mr Third said.

Other new units were based in Rotorua and Auckland and cost about $200,000.

The Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust recently allocated $45,000 for the Dunedin unit.

Local St John area fundraising committees also gave money – Dunedin about $75,000 and Taieri about $50,000, Mr Third said.