Officers honoured for Pike River, quake and balloon disasters

By Heather McCracken

Inspector Wendy Robilliard, with the Governor General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, after receiving the Insignia of an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Inspector Wendy Robilliard, with the Governor General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, after receiving the Insignia of an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Two police officers have been honoured for their work with hundreds of grieving families following the Pike River, Canterbury earthquakes and Carterton balloon disasters.

Inspectors Mark Harrison and Wendy Robilliard developed new police response systems for mass casualty events, first used following the Pike River mine explosion.

Mr Harrison and Ms Robilliard were made members of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours, and received their insignia from Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae at Government House in Wellington today.

The pair worked to establish a network of liaison officers to support affected families after Pike River, including daily briefings by experts, and communication systems to provide instant updates.

A few months later, the same systems were used in the police response to the Canterbury earthquakes.

Ms Robilliard, then manager of victim support services at police national headquarters, personally led briefings for more than 800 families, and introduced a system to notify families as remains were identified.

She also worked with families following the Carterton ballooning accident in January 2012.

Ms Robilliard, from Kerikeri, said it was a privilege to have been accepted by the families and to work alongside them.

"To be able to work closely with the families under pretty trying circumstances has been incredible."

She said while working on Pike River, she never imagined the systems would be needed again so soon, and on such a mass scale.

"I was sitting in a welfare advisory meeting for Pike River when I felt the earthquake and heard all the pagers going off," she said.

"I never thought for a moment that we'd be doing back to back operations."

She said the work could be traumatic and emotionally demanding, "but you work as a team so you're all in it to support each other, and you need to be professional in the way you do the job."

Mr Harrison, area commander at Palmerston North, said the scale of the disaster in Canterbury was tough to comprehend, even for those who had worked on Pike River.

"On the [Pike River] memorial day when you saw the 29 tables laid out, that was mind-blowing. Then you get to Christchurch and you've got 185 names."

In Christchurch, Mr Harrison liaised with the coroner and families of missing victims to arrange interment of remains, and worked with Christchurch City Council to establish a memorial garden for unidentified victims.

He had received texts of congratulations this morning from families he had worked with in Canterbury.

"It's nice to be recognised but it's a proud moment when you know what you've done has made a difference."

- APNZ

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