'Disagreement' over CTV rescue efforts
Christchurch Earthquake 2011
A search and rescue official prevented demolition crews from dismantling the collapsed Canterbury Television building to reach survivors because of health and safety concerns, an inquest has heard.
Detective Sergeant Rex Barnett this afternoon told a coroner's inquest that efforts to clear debris from the site were "hampered" when an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) official opposed the idea.
A meeting between 11pm and midnight on February 22, 2011, to discuss a rescue plan for the eastern side of the CTV building revealed some disagreement, Barnett said.
"The efforts to utilise the demolition expertise of [Southern Demolition boss] Alan Edge was hampered by the OC [officer in charge] USAR,'' he said.
"The OC USAR did not agree to using Mr Edge's suggested methods.
''Any attempts to remove the fallen concrete beams ... were vetoed by the OC USAR, who appeared to be overwhelmed by occupational health and safety concerns and preoccupied with their role."
Police officer in charge Sergeant Michael Brooklands, Fire Service personnel and civilian contractors were at the briefing, he said.
Barnett did not know who the USAR man was, but said his opinion prevailed.
"I am aware the police have made requests to the Fire Service, who are best placed to identify the person."
Barnett came across Alec Cvetanov, whose wife, Tamara, was alive and trapped inside the CTV building, shortly before the meeting.
At one stage, Cvetanov was climbing over rubble, talking to his wife and trying to pinpoint her location, Barnett said, and at another point he ended a call to preserve the battery on his wife's cellphone.
"I now know no-one was rescued alive after the meeting," he said.
Earlier, Barnett said there was "no formalised structure" for who was in charge of the CTV site.
He mentioned the need for a single leader to two senior police officers who visited the site on the afternoon of February 22.
"I did say it needed someone of a higher rank."
Brooklands, the appointed officer in charge, did an excellent job, Barnett said.
Rescuers will be "haunted" wondering if they could have saved more lives, says the police officer initially in charge at the Canterbury Television buiding collapse site.
Brooklands told the inquiry that rescuers did "everything they could" to save people trapped inside the building.
The inquest is hearing evidence into the deaths of Tamara Cvetanova, Jessie Redouble, Emmabelle Anoba, Ezra Medalle, Reah Sumalpong, Rika Hyuga, Chang Lai and Mary Amantillo, who were known to have been alive after the building collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake but were unable to be rescued.
The inquest, which is being streamed live on the Justice Ministry's coronial services unit website, will run for two weeks and reconvene for a final week at the start of December.
Brooklands said in his statement of evidence that he did not think "we could have rescued any other people in my time there", but under questioning clarified this as "more of a self-serving statement for myself and the guys that I worked with".
"I think that we did everything that we could," he said.
"I felt then that it was possible we could have saved more people, but that's not known.
"That will haunt almost everyone on that site; that they wish they could have [saved more people]."
Poor communications and the lack of resources at the CTV site was a "major frustration", Brooklands said.
Radio communication was "hopeless" because "there was so much information going across it".
The lack of a central command point on site was his fault, he said.
"I should have set up a control point so we could have set up a temporary command structure. That's one of the things I look back on and it's one of my failures."
The sergeant's patrol car was the usual control point location, he said, where data was collected and people knew to go to ask questions or get information.
"We didn't that time because it was very fluid, but in hindsight, I should have."
An action plan was usually drawn up to co-ordinate such situations, Brooklands said.
"But usually is not the CTV site. A formalised action plan for the whole building? You might need a couple of weeks to sort that out."
Brooklands said he had had some training in co-ordinated incident management systems, the system for managing a disaster response between agencies, "seven or eight years ago".
Emergency services should work together to be better prepared for future disasters, he said.
"We should have people from the Fire Service, police, ambulance that work together and train together, that are on call together,'' he said.
"[Then] they can start collecting all the information available at that one location so that all the people who can do the best for the situation."
Rescue efforts 'hampered'
Police faced a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation as they tried to save survivors of the CTV building collapse, Brooklands said earlier.
He said it was "frustrating" to see rescue efforts slow down when Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) staff arrived at the site.
Brooklands, the officer initially in charge at the CTV building site on the day of the February 22, 2011, quake, said there was a "dramatic change" when USAR teams joined other emergency services there.
"In my opinion, the efforts of those on the site began to be hampered,'' he said.
''This was frustrating for myself, staff and volunteers. From my observations, rescue efforts did slow down."
USAR teams brought a greater "risk aversity" with them, Brooklands said.
"Early on in the piece there was no risk aversity; people just climbed on board,'' he said.
"There was a dramatic change in the way things were being done. In hindsight ... that's most probably a natural thing to occur because they are gaining control over the site and doing what they do."
There was concern that moving debris could put survivors at risk, which contradicted rescuers' instincts.
"It's one of those decisions that's very difficult to make because you're damned if you do and damned if you don't,'' he said.
"If you make decisions to rush in and move debris and try to free somebody, you're putting other people's lives at risk at the same time."
Brooklands was the officer in charge at the site from immediately after the collapse until he was relieved early on February 23.
After leaving the CTV site, he returned to police headquarters to brief senior officers.
"I don't think they realised how bad it was," Brooklands said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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