BUSY, extreme and challenging.
That was how the Emergency Management Southland (EMS) team described 2020.
Southland went through a real roller-coaster this year from big floods in February, a Covid-19 pandemic, snow at the end of lambing season and more floods.
All the adversity kept manager Angus McKay, adviser Craig Sinclair and community adviser Aly Curd very busy.
Mr McKay described it as the most challenging year he had faced in his career.
“The team always laughed at me because I said for years that we needed to have a little emergency just to test everything.
“We certainly had that this year.”
He was proud of what his team had achieved.
“The thing is, you are only ever as good as how you did in your last response.
“So it doesn’t matter how good we did with floods or Covid we had a response this weekend and we didn’t do very well, all the good work is forgotten.
“We try to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
Because of this and the nature of the job, the pressure was huge.
A good example was the flooding in February.
Mr Sinclair, who had worked at EMS since its inception in 2010, described it as “the biggest event” they ever had to deal with.
“The community planning that we did beforehand and all the work we’ve been doing with the communities paid off during the floods because everybody knew what their roles were.”
Mr McKay agreed.
“We started the week with a panic phone call from Milford saying they were flooding and everything carried on from there.
“Every day was like a new emergency. It seemed it was one thing after another, it was pretty hard work.”
While the team was still working on the recovery from the flooding, a global pandemic and a national lockdown began.
“If you talk to people who work in the health sector, that is their big earthquake is the thing they were worried about and planning about.
“For us, we were very much aware of it but probably hoped would never happen.
“We came from a big flood response and recovery straight to a huge welfare response.”
Mr Sinclair said the two approaches were completely different.
“In February, this place [EMS control office] was packed, full with noise and people.
“During Covid, it was a completely different and a new situation. We split the team in two shifts and everybody was two metres apart.”
Ms Curd said the Covid-19 response was “much more mentally draining” and Mr McKay agreed.
He said a very important part of their jobs was mental health.
“That is the reality of what we deal with. Sometimes it is a very negative job because you are always thinking about the worst case scenario.”
With 2021 on the horizon, the EMS team was hoping to have a calmer year.
Mr McKay would be leaving his position in mid-January after five-and-a-half years.
He had accepted a job as chief controller with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
“It is a complee relief for me to know that I have two people here very capable to keep things going.”
However, he highlighted the need for “forward thinking” in the whole community as things were changing.
Ms Curd said it could start with a simple conversation at home, while Mr Sinclair wanted to encourage people to be more aware of the hazards around them.
Mr McKay agreed.
“We never know what is around the corner, really and with climate change, we are getting more events and more frequently.