URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE CANINE UNIT
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL:
I address my question to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Will the Minister provide an overview of the Urban Search and Rescue Canine Unit within the NSW State Emergency Service?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I thank the member for her question and keen interest in the outstanding work done by the NSW State Emergency Service and its volunteers in the development of the Urban Search and Rescue Canine Unit. As part of a combined project with Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW State Emergency Service has formed a canine search unit that will be available to assist Fire and Rescue NSW in urban search and rescue operations, nationally and internationally. The implementation of the NSW State Emergency Service Urban Search and Rescue Canine Unit has assisted in broadening the scope of the NSW State Emergency Service and its volunteers in disaster preparedness and response. It will also further enhance volunteer skills, thereby improving the safety of the community.
The canine unit will provide a critical element in a coordinated agency approach when locating potential survivors and victims in collapsed structures, utilising specially trained canines and their State Emergency Service volunteer handlers. Currently there are 10 NSW State Emergency Service volunteer handlers with canines. These handlers have been assisted by dog trainers who are undertaking intensive training in preparation of being operational following the international external classification assessments to be held in September. This involves a formal accreditation process through the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. Once operational, all members on the State Emergency Service Canine Urban Search and Rescue Unit will be available to contribute to other core roles of the NSW State Emergency Service during flood, storm and tsunami events, as well possibly being involved in future land-search opportunities assisting the NSW Police Force.
Fire and Rescue NSW recently invited the NSW State Emergency Service Canine Unit handlers to attend a presentation by Chris Pritchard, an internationally recognised urban search and rescue dog handler. Mr Pritchard has been deployed to many countries as an urban search and rescue canine search coordinator and has a wealth of knowledge in this area. The State Emergency Service canine handlers gain valuable knowledge in various canine search and rescue techniques that have been utilised in previous emergency rescue operations in all parts of the globe, taking away valuable information on this unique field from Mr Pritchard's presentation. Urban search and rescue canines are a unique and valuable resource for assisting with rapid location and rescue of trapped people from collapsed structures. This unit will play a crucial role in the disaster response process. However, it requires extensive training, commitment and continuous assessment to ensure a high degree of professionalism and proficiency is sustained.
The selected NSW State Emergency Service volunteer dog handlers are enthusiastic about maintaining their training both personally and with their team. The NSW State Emergency Canine Unit will not be limited to the boundaries of New South Wales; rather, it will be available to provide national and international support for our neighbouring States and countries that are affected by disasters. In New South Wales we have thousands of dedicated men and women who volunteer in our State Emergency Service, and it is crucial that we recognise their time and work by providing them with the infrastructure and support to maintain such an invaluable capability.