Should Police have gone to Whakaari/White Island after the eruption and checked for any final survivors?
That is the question a lot of people are asking today about yesterday’s emergency response. There are families and Whakatane locals who believe police should have gone in.
They’re upset and they’re calling this a repeat of Pike River mine. And we know what happened there: between the first explosion and the second, when families were desperate to go in and get the miners, authorities said no.
Even now, more than 24 hours on, Police haven’t been to the island yet. They haven’t set foot on the place. The people who have been rescued were rescued by private citizens, by a group of helicopter pilots and boat skippers who saw the eruption and rushed to the island to help, acting like absolute heroes, putting themselves at risk
Police, though, made the call it’s still too dangerous for them to go over. And that is why they’re copping flack.
It is probably too early to pass judgement. We don’t know yet exactly what police knew and considered when they decided not to go back.
Could they see any people? Could they be sure, no one survived or could survived? Did they know where the people were? Did they know how many people they were looking for? If the private citizens hadn’t gone to rescue the injured, would they still be there? Would Police have gone for them?
Those are the questions we need answered before we know if Police made the right call.
But regardless, we’re going to have to make a decision as a country about what we want our first responders to do.
Do we want them to go in and save people, even if there’s only a slim chance of those people surviving, and even if it means the responders are risking their own lives? Do we want them to act like the fire fighters in the Twin Towers who rushed in to save people and yet themselves lost their lives? Or the divers who went in to save the Thai cave boys, and lost one of the rescuers?
Or do we want our first responders to weigh up the risks and only go in if they can be sure they themselves will survive?
I think we’ve got to make a call on this, because this is the second time in a decade that the first responders haven’t gone in, and it’s the second time in a decade that they’ve been criticised for that.
We will have emergencies again. What do we want our first responders to do next time?