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Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) 

Urban Search and Rescue involves finding and rescuing people trapped when a structure collapses, for example if a single building collapses or as a result of a major landslide or earthquake.


In New Zealand USAR comes under the umbrella of the New Zealand Fire Service.

New Zealand USAR taskforces

New Zealand has USAR taskforces based in Auckland, Palmerston North, and Christchurch. Taskforces include firefighters, search and rescue dog handlers , communications experts, engineers, other technical experts, and doctors and paramedics.  The taskforces also call on external support and expertise as required, in areas such as construction, heavy machinery operation and specialist equipment.


International connections

New Zealand’s USAR taskforces use operational protocols and methods defined by the United Nations and shared with Urban Search and Rescue services in other countries.  This means that USAR teams from around the world are able to operate effectively together, including teams with different languages.   New Zealand has strong connections as a result of regular training and engagement with Urban Search and Rescue teams in a number of countries around the world. This common approach and familiarity has been valuable during the Christchurch 2011 earthquake response.

Christchurch earthquake

In the first minutes after the Christchurch earthquake at 12.51 pm on 22 February 2011, spontaneous rescues were carried out by on-duty firefighters, other emergency services and people in the street.

Urban Search and Rescue personnel were deployed as soon as they were available.  Local teams from Christchurch were entering buildings less than an hour after the quake occurred. Auckland and Palmerston North teams arrived in the city within hours. International teams were on the ground in the first few days.

The Christchurch 2011 earthquake response involved teams from New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, UK and USA.

Wider response

New Zealand’s emergency response also includes volunteer Response Teams linked to the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management