Arrowtown community earthquake response: 12 volunteers for huge job

by Lauren Pattemore - Nov 18, 2023

It was the first Covid-19 lockdown of recent years that prompted one Arrowtown resident to ponder how her community would rally during future emergencies. Two-and-a-half years later, the Arrowtown Community Response group has made big progress.

Volunteer and founding member Zoe Pierce says the first item on the group's agenda was updating Arrowtown's AF8 emergency response plan.

The information on the plan was "way out of date", Ms Pierce says. 

On the plan were six sites for use as emergency hubs, including the school, the Athenaeum Hall and the golf club, and some of the venues listed didn't even know they were on it.

Ms Pierce says six hubs operational post a disaster aren't achievable because they would be too resource-heavy for the current volunteer team of 12 to run themselves.

The group has updated their updated plan, and the designated spot is now the Arrowtown Community Centre by the rugby field.

With such a small response team, they're calling for individuals and their households to get prepared themselves with what they need, and also join the Otago Gets Ready database

Volunteer Alison Dench says the database is a way for people to list their skills, such as 'handy with a chainsaw' or 'plumber' so they can connect "needs and offers" within Arrowtown's community post-event.

Their role in AF8 is to lead the response, and facilitate communication, "not to be the response". 

Those who are vulnerable can also list themselves as such on the database, and it means in the event of an emergency, they'll be checked up on by a member of the response group. 

The names and information on the database are confidential, and response group members undergo a police check before they are given access.

"The more we know about our community the better prepared we can be," Ms Pierce says. 

She says the team are always looking for more members, emphasising that anyone can join as they often hear people say "they have no skills" to offer the group. 

But they'll need people to man the community hub, and greet and help those coming through the doors when AF8 hits and the community has to look after itself. 

"We need as many as we can lay our hands on...12 of us can't cover all of Arrowtown."

Volunteers don't have to come to every meeting, which are held once a month, Ms Pierce says. 

Ms Pierce reckons she thinks about the Alpine Fault at least once a day and wants Arrowtown residents to think about it more often too.

But, more importantly, she wants people to act too, and get themselves stocked up with the things they will need in the event of an emergency, and that can be as simple as having a spare gas bottle. 

"There's little mindset changes, that make them more self-sufficient, and the more self-sufficient, the better placed we'll be."

Ms Dench, a former firefighter, decided to join the group because she missed making a difference in an emergency. She also attended a lecture about an AF8 event around eight years ago at Queenstown Memorial Hall, and says the information presented was "sobering". 

Nicolet Spice is part of the team because she "gets a lot out of community work" and enjoys giving back. She wrote six grants for the community group seeking funding for equipment. 

They've gotten two generators and a radio, but they still have lighting, power cords, heaters and solar charges on the equipment shopping list.

Ms Dench says they're also looking to purchase Starlink internet, so that visitors can communicate with family and friends that they're safe.

One of the unique challenges of their community is that they get a lot of day visitors, but there's a limited amount of hotel accommodation, Ms Dench says.

If a natural disaster struck over the Autumn festival, there'd be potentially "eight to ten thousand visitors with nowhere to stay," Ms Dench says. 

The group has learnt a lot from other community response groups, such as the one in Kelvin Heights, which has been up and running for six years, but "there is not one size fits all", Ms Dench says. 

The group has recently started a Facebook page titled Get Ready Arrowtown, those interested can sign up to volunteer by emailing [email protected].

Main image: Arrowtown Community Response members outside the designated emergency hub at Arrowtown Community Hall (from left) Zoe Pierce, Alison Dench and Nicolet Spice.

Support Crux Support Crux