Distress in Doubtful Sound
An insight into the latest activity in Exercise Whakarauora Tangata, the Nationally Significant SAREX series.
Exercise Whakarauora Tangata is being conducted between July 2023 and May 2024. The general scenario is a Category II SAR operation, involving a large vessel in distress, with several hundred people onboard. Geographically tailored scenarios are being exercised across four Police districts: Bay of Plenty, Southern, Wellington and Eastern. Activities include tabletop exercises at National level and Police District Incident Management Team level, through to tactical-level functional SAREX, with assets, actors and real-world exercise play.
The most recent activity was a table-top activity conducted on 11 October 2023 in Wellington. The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) the coordinated the response to the incident, notionally located in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland.
"Only rescue assets which were physically available on the day were considered in-play for the exercise," says John Dyer, the NZSAR Secretariat Lead Planner for Exercise Whakarauora Tangata. â€œBut naturally we made the notional weather conditions worse than reality."
RCCNZ had Search and Rescue Officers (SAROs) working on tactical level search and rescue coordination, tasking helicopter companies and vessels of opportunity such as local tourist ships. Several hundred notional survivors were found, rescued and delivered to the wharf at Deep Cove, near the eastern corner of Doubtful Sound. From there, survivors were transported to Te Anau aerodrome, as the designated point of safety.
"A major focus of Exercise Whakarauora Tangata is around coordinating the logistics, reconciliation and management of large numbers of rescued people," says John. In the previous Bay of Plenty exercise, the Police were able to apply their Investigative Management Tool to managing the reconciliation process. "Police had excellent insights and recent experience from Cyclone Gabrielle, where up to 3,000 people were unaccounted for during the state of national emergency. We will continue to explore the utility of this tool during future phases of the exercise."
Meanwhile, officials from Maritime New Zealand liaised with 17 other agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), New Zealand Customs, Te Whatu Ora and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. Together, they dealt with higher-level considerations such as media management and foreign political interest, while also planning the management of longer-term issues such as oil spill and environmental response.
â€œDuring a real incident such as a cruise ship grounding, there are likely to be foreign nationals involved," says John. "MFAT would act in a liaison role with foreign governments, perhaps coordinating offers of additional SAR or support assets, as well as repatriation requests."
The SARO logs from the Wellington exercise will influence exercise injects for the Southern SAREX in early December, where assets from across the SAR sector and supporting agencies will be physically deployed to Fiordland to play out the scenario.
So far, the exercises have been very successful, with objectives met and lessons identified. "But what has been really great is the interest and willingness of a range of organisations to participate," says John. "That includes the SAR sector, but also many other government and non-government organisations. They all see the opportunities to test their own processes and procedures, so everyone can work together more effectively during a nationally significant SAR incident."
Visit www.nzsar.govt.nz/natsigsarex to learn more about Exercise Whakarauora Tangata.
This story was originally published in the December 2023 issue of Link magazine.
Feature Image: Exercise Whakarauora Tangata - Southern Scenario overview map. Contains data sourced from the LINZ Data Service licensed for reuse under CC BY 4.0.