WEMO: Emergency Response Team Photographs

Earlier this year CEISMIC released a collection of photographs from the Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO). These photographs were taken by a team of volunteers who travelled to Christchurch after the 22 February 2011 earthquake to staff the Emergency Welfare and Civil Defence centres, gather and distribute emergency information, and operate communication equipment.

Today an additional 700 photographs were added to the WEMO collection – this time from WEMO’s Emergency Response Team (ERT). The ERT are trained in a wide range of emergency skills including: providing initial medical support; locating and recovering trapped and injured persons; impact assessment including investigating and gathering information; and helping with evacuation, security, and cordon and traffic control. For the most part the WEMO ERT helped in Christchurch by examining buildings for trapped individuals and assessing the damage around the city.

From left to right: Members of the WEMO ERT team entering an office through a broken window; a photograph of a message on the side of a buildinga member of an emergency management team examining the rubble in the car park behind the Forsyth Bar building; a red sticker on the side of a building.

The photographs provide a rare glimpse of some of the most damaged areas of the Christchurch central city after the 22 February 2011 earthquake, including locations such as the Smith City car park and the intersection of Manchester, High, and Lichfield Streets.  These spaces were inside the cordon after the earthquake and were demolished or cleared of rubble before the public was allowed back in the central city. This means that only a few people such as emergency management personnel or those that were in the vicinity during the earthquake ever saw these scenes, making these photographs our only way to appreciate the scale of the damage.

From left to right: The partially-cleared Smiths City car park with cars still parked on the top floor; A photograph of a car on Manchester Street which has been crushed by falling rubble; Emergency management personnel watching an excavator clearing the rubble from earthquake-damaged buildings on Manchester Street; A photograph of a car on Gloucester Street – near the intersection of Colombo Street – which has been crushed by falling rubble.

In addition to the central city cordon, the photographs also depict the experiences of emergency management personnel in the emergency response to the Canterbury earthquake. USAR teams are shown working in full safety gear, relaxing in Latimer Square after a hard day, and eating at the canteen. The collection also contains photographs of a graduation ceremony for WEMO volunteers in the Wellington Town Hall, where members of the ERT were awarded certificates of appreciation for their work in Christchurch.

From left to right: Members of the Wellington Emergency Management Office ERT relaxing in Latimer Square; Members of the WEMO ERT in hazmat suits, hard hats, face masks, safety glasses, and knee pads; Emergency management personnel eating lunch in the temporary canteen set up in Latimer Square; Members of the Wellington Emergency Management Office at a graduation ceremony in the Wellington Town Hall.

CEISMIC would like to thank WEMO for gifting their photographs to the archive. Both collections of photographs – those taken by the community volunteers as well as the ERT – showcase not just the damage and chaos caused by the earthquake but the importance of volunteers in civil emergencies. As these photographs show, the work is hard and often thankless, but is essential to the recovery.