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During any disaster – weather, earthquake or man-made – police are at the forefront of the rescue phase and critical to the safety of the impacted communities.

We have seen this to its full extent during the past month when the destructive powers of extreme flooding followed by a cyclone have wreaked havoc on the northern parts of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti Gisborne.

Our members have been out there searching, rescuing, evacuating, welfare checking and maintaining overall public safety. As you will see in the stories told in the following pages, officers in disaster areas turn up to work even when their own families and homes are in danger.

It is no 9-to-5 role.

They also put their lives on the line to ensure others are safe, and we have every reason to be extremely proud of their responses in recent days. We trust them to trust in their training and, in remote parts of the country, we need their local knowledge of the landscape and the people more than ever.

Having lived and worked for many years in Hawke’s Bay, it is traumatic as an observer to see the level of destruction, the homes and the livelihoods destroyed and the landscape I knew so well changed beyond recognition. If I feel that way, I can only imagine the magnitude of the fear and heartbreak of the communities directly affected.

Among those communities are our members. Some have lost their homes entirely. Others have suffered severe damage. Yet, they all step forward to assist.

The ultimate example of the absolute dedication of a first responder was the fate of two volunteer firefighters who died trying to make sure others were safe. They are true heroes and I know I speak for all police when I send aroha to their loved ones and colleagues.

In such times, the need for resilient communication is obvious and therefore it was surprising how badly comms failed. When a town the size of Napier has no cellphone or internet coverage for days and victims stranded on roofs can’t call for help, there is a clear need for a system review and likely a solution that involves both private business and government working together.

The unnecessary worry for families, friends and for Police when insecure communications resulted in so many people uncontactable for so long was just unacceptable in 2023.

This lack of communication also led to the inevitable rumours and exaggerations that are an unfortunate by-product of an information vacuum.

This is a well-documented, worldwide phenomenon in the aftermath of disasters although it’s very disappointing that traditional news outlets bought into it and added fuel to the fire. There is no doubt communities suffered at the hands of some callous offenders, and these were communities already unhappy with the level of crime they were witnessing before the cyclone.

However, the good news is the same research shows that rather than engaging in wholesale looting and crime at the time of disasters, communities predominantly come together to help each other. As you will read in our stories, this is what New Zealanders did and will continue to do in the months ahead.

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