New Zealand: USAID Deploys Urban Search and Rescue Team to Christchurch

February 24, 2011
DART Team Prepares for Departure to New Zealand

About the Author: Rebecca Gustafson serves as USAID/OFDA Press Officer with the New Zealand Earthquake response DART.

I started getting calls about the terrible earthquake in Christchurch almost immediately after it happened. It was clear that the devastation was great. My heart went out to those who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods, and I couldn't help but wonder if USAID would send a team to help those searching for survivors.

The office I work for at USAID is one most Americans have not heard of. With a staff of 250 people based around the world, USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is smaller than many of the bands of the U.S. Military, but with an important mandate, to save lives and alleviate suffering. We are charged with leading the U.S. government's response to international disasters, maybe 70 or so natural disasters and complex emergencies each year, on behalf of the American people.

So when information on the quake in Christchurch began to filter in, we immediately started discussing possible international assistance and what we could provide if needed. USAID has agreements with two of the most skilled Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams in the world -- Fairfax County Virginia Fire and Rescue Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department -- who are always ready to deploy in the aftermath of an earthquake or other catastrophic disaster. We reviewed the options through the night and stood ready to respond should it be needed.

Knowing there is significant search and rescue capacity in the region that is best placed to assist in Christchurch, I went to work Tuesday morning thinking it would be another busy day in the office. It is a good thing I am always packed and ready to deploy because I and five of my OFDA colleagues were headed to Christchurch just after noon.

We are meeting up with the Los Angeles County Urban Search and Rescue team and then heading directly into Christchurch. Once on the ground, we will immediately go into rescue mode. Our USAR team will join forces with the USAR personnel from New Zealand and other international teams they train with all year to assure that every place a survivor might be found is thoroughly searched.

Our USAR team will have more than 70 highly trained technical experts and a cargo aircraft full of equipment to aid in making rescues in collapsed buildings and structures. Most of the team members were part of the international effort that rescued more than 130 people from the rubble in Haiti, and we hope to save some lives in Christchurch.

So when you see the awful pictures coming out of New Zealand, and you wish you could do something to help -- know that you already are. USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is fully funded by the American taxpayer, and we are going to do our best to make a difference in Christchurch and wherever else our help is needed.

If you want to further assist those in Christchurch, please make a cash donation to a reputable organization working in the disaster zone.

To get up to the minute updates on the US search and rescue efforts in Christchurch, follow me on Twitter @DARTgirl and @USAID.

This blog entry first appeared on USAID's IMPACTblog.



New Zealand
February 24, 2011

Rebecca in New Zealand writes:

Thank you! I was in Christchurch on Tuesday, and as an American, I was quickly whisked away, but the support of the Embassy and all the Americans who have come to help this small country makes me proud and happy. Thank you for all you are doing.

New Zealand
February 25, 2011

Jess in New Zealand writes:

As an Aucklander I have been physically unaffected by the earthquake in Christchurch, but we are a small country and it is impossible for anyone in New Zealand to not be emotionally affected.

I, and I am certain everyone in the country, have been deeply touched by the support from around the world. Thank you all - the US Government, the American people, and most especially the members of the USAID/USAR team taking time away from their families and risking their safety to help. It is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Martin C.
February 25, 2011

Martin C. in Australia writes:

Thanks guys and good luck. donations can be made to

New Zealand
March 1, 2011

Jens in New Zealand writes:

As an American who was in Christchurch during the earthquake, I am proud to see my country offer its assistance to New Zealand during this enormous tragedy. New Zealand so often provides its own citizens and resources to the international community during crises overseas. The whole world stands with Christchurch.

New Zealand
March 2, 2011

Mike in New Zealand writes:

As a citizen of Christchurch, I would just like to say a big thank you to you all, for coming over away from your family and friends to help us. I hope that you come back one day (for free) when this is all over and see the real beauty that this city has to offer, instead of this mess.

Thank you and god bless you all.

New Zealand
March 3, 2011

Ruth in New Zealand writes:

I hope that you know your being here is appreciated. It means a lot to see the support we are receiving internationally.

Kia Kaha

New Zealand
March 14, 2011

Amy in New Zealand writes:

I am also an American who was in Christchurch on the 22nd of February and made my way to the Antartic Center. I can not tell you how impressed I was with the Embassy staff who looked after us. Amazing folks who do their job well. USA should be proud to have them working for us.

New York, USA
March 23, 2011

Rev in New York writes:

To all those in the USAR Team from American,who went to NZ and gave their precious time-effort and much appreciated support to the people of Christchurch....Let me take this moment and on behalf of every Kiwi-both here in the USA, across the world & NZ to extend to each & everyone of you ses a very big warm appreciative Thank You (Kia Kaha)......Always will be remember Thank you Guys


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