Quake rescuers faced 'dual jeopardy'

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 11:05 23/11/2012
Avenues quake
Neil Macbeth

A sea of help, as rescue workers scour the smouldering remains of the CTV building.

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Frontline rescue workers ''did their very best'' to save lives in the aftermath of Christchurch's earthquakes, often putting their own needs and those of their families aside, early results from a new study say.

Some preliminary findings from the joint University of Otago and AUT University study of 600 frontline workers in Christchurch have been released today following recent criticisms of the emergency response to the quakes.

The study was not due to be completed until 2015, but the researchers said they were concerned that the representation of emergency workers to date had been narrow, lacking perspective and potentially undermining for those involved.

Associate Professor David McBridge, the principal investigator from Otago, said Christchurch's frontline workers and those who flew in to help them ''did their very best'' and saved many lives.

''This should be acknowledged and remembered,'' he said.

Otago researcher Dr Kirsten Lovelock, of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, said all of the workers she spoke to responded to the best of their ability.

Many experienced ''dual jeopardy'', where they had no time to contact their families, lost their homes and workplaces and may have had family and friends who were injured, but still continued to respond to the disaster and a range of daily emergencies, she said.

Frontline workers were vulnerable to a variety of occupational health conditions because of the risks they faced in their normal working lives and responding to disaster was also known to impact on their health.

Lovelock said it would be a shame if criticisms made to improve the emergency response to disaster overshadowed what the frontline workers did achieve.

''While it is important to consider how things can be improved it is also very important to remember this was a natural disaster and front line workers worked very hard to help people under very difficult circumstances.''

The study began in November last year and is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation.

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