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Exercise Whakarauora Tangata

Page updated: 13 March 2023

New Zealand’s SAR system -  encompassing key Government agencies, our four NGOs and supported by numerous clubs, organisations and individuals - has an enviable reputation for responding to a multitude of incidents over many years.  Many of these incidents have been nationally significant.

Exercise Whakarauora Tangata aims to ensure we can respond effectively to a nationally significant search and rescue incident.

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Whakarauora Tangata Logo full colour png 360x240 News block size

The name and logo
The exercise's name is the amalgamation of three words – whaka, rauora and tangata. Whaka gives mana to the word it is combined with, rauora means rescue and tangata means people. Together the name Whakarauora Tangata means 'the rescue of people’.

The logo shows the mountains and oceans of Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother). In between them is Te Kore – the nothingness – where there is potential for anything to happen.

Introduction and FAQs

Introducing Exercise Whakarauora Tangata - what it is, and why we need it

What makes a SAR incident nationally significant?

When a search operation has unusual features of scale, nature, intensity, or possible consequences, it may require a response that is beyond the normal capacity or capability of New Zealand’s SAR system.  This could be the result of one or more of the following attributes or challenges:

 - There may be a requirement to provide assistance to a large number of people. 
 - The search may cover an extensive area.
 - The search may run for an extended period of time.
 - The search may occur in a remote area of the NZSRR.
 - There may be significant public interest in the search.

These are typically relatively low-probability, high-consequence events, which due to their severity or complexity may also require a coordinated government response through activation of New Zealand’s National Security System.  

The 1968 Wāhine Disaster, the 1979 Erebus crash, and the 1986 sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov would all be considered nationally significant.  The January 2023 Kaitaki ferry incident verged on being nationally significant and certainly would have been if it had run aground on Wellington's South Coast.


What is Exercise Whakarauora Tangata?

Whakarauora Tangata is the name given to the Nationally Significant SAR Exercise. It is an amalgamation of three words – whaka, rauora and tangata. Whaka gives mana to the word it is combined with, rauora means rescue and tangata means people. Together the name Whakarauora Tangata means 'the rescue of people. 


Why do we need Exercise Whakarauora Tangata?

There is a significant risk to the effectiveness of SAR operations if plans are not fit-for-purpose, or if personnel have not practiced their roles. A failed effective response to a nationally significant SAR incident would be catastrophic for those in need of rescue and their whanau and could also pose a significant reputational risk to SAR organisations, the Government of the day, and New Zealand internationally.

The SAR system currently includes a range of individual and collective trainings at varying levels supported by the NZSAR Secretariat.  Exercise Whakarauora Tangata will provide the opportunity for New Zealand’s SAR system to exercise within the construct of a response to a nationally significant incident.


Who is planning Exercise Whakarauora Tangata?

In recognising the risk associated with a failed response to a nationally significant SAR incident, the NZSAR Council directed the NZSAR Secretariat to scope options for a national exercise. In March 2022, the Council approved a series of phased exercises in the financial years 2022/23 and 2023/24. 

The exercise series will be developed in collaboration with SAR stakeholders, and a Steering Committee made up of key stakeholders has been established to oversee this development. 

The NZSAR Secretariat has contracted a planning team to coordinate the development of the exercise; this team will consult and draw on the technical expertise from key stakeholders to ensure that we maximise the benefits of each phase of the exercise series.


What is the purpose of Exercise Whakarauora Tangata?

The purpose of the exercise series is to evaluate the current cross-agency policies, procedures, capabilities, and capacity, to ensure that New Zealand is adequately prepared for a large-scale NatSig SAR event, which would stretch the availability of resources in the conduct of SAR and feature several distinct issues of varying levels of complexity.

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Objectives and approach

More information about the objectives and approach being taken for Exercise Whakarauora Tangata

The objectives of the Exercise are:

  1. Rehearse unified control, across all levels, during a coordinated inter-agency response to a nationally significant SAR incident. 
  2. Assess the effectiveness and suitability of existing SAR frameworks, memoranda of understanding, plans, procedures, systems, and processes. 
  3. Test new or developing concepts, plans, procedures, tools, and equipment. 
  4. Increase knowledge and understanding of roles and responsibilities within and across SAR agencies and support agencies. 
  5. Assess or identify areas of particular risk or opportunity for the SAR sector in the coordinated response to a nationally significant SAR operation.


How will we conduct Exercise Whakarauora Tangata?

The exercise is planned as series of phases to be conducted between July 2023 and May 2024.  Further detail of these phases and broad timings are outlined in the one-page summary below.  Detailed timings will be published once they have been confirmed, recognizing that there are other exercises and events planned that need to be deconflicted.

The diagram below shows how the exercise will be conducted.  A more comprehensive one-page summary can also be downloaded from our resources section below. 




  1. Subject to resource availability and timings, inputs may be provided by the agency above in real time or by exercise control.
  2. Activities across these Phases could occur simultaneously
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More information

For more information, please contact our Lead Planner, John Dyer on


30 November 2023 - Distress in Doubtul Sound - An insight into the table top activity held at the Rescue Coordination Centre NZ for Exercise Whakarauora Tangata.

21 November 2023  A video on the Southern SAREX held on 18 November features on TV 1's Seven Sharp programme. 

20 September 2023 - Exercise Whakarauora Tangata underway

20 June 2023 - Whakarauora Tangata begins in July 2023.



Downloadable resources for Exercise Whakarauora Tangata


Evaluation Reports for Exercise Whakarauora Tangata

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