Search operations base almost ready

The expanded operating base of the Owaka branch of Catlins Land Search and Rescue is nearing completion. And the LandSAR crew is hosting an open day to showcase the functional facility's ''value for money and what benefit we are to the community'', chairman Fraser Morris says.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Owaka's new stand-alone 7.2m by 12m (85sqm) shed, will take place at 3pm next Saturday. The Clutha District Council approved the land use last winter through the Owaka reserve management plan and the $45,000 shed now houses a 3m by 2.4m radio room, an IT room, a debriefing room and the group's state-of-the-art trailer - equipped with satellite and internet capabilities, radios, a generator and other crucial search gear. Construction of the shed began on April 1 and 28 local contractors provided time free of charge for the build, Mr Morris said.

The reserve management plan also approved work on the 58-member Owaka search and rescue team's adjacent ''Corporate Box'' on the Owaka sports grounds. It houses the search and rescue team's incident management control room and a meeting room, and would also be open to the public for the first time, Mr Morris said.

Mr Morris was a member of the first group of Catlins-based search and rescue when it started in 1981.

Now, along with the South Catlins crew, based in Tokanui, Catlins LandSAR numbers 120 members.

Over the past five to eight years, LandSAR operations had changed, search and rescue operations used a more professional approach ''with a high level of accountability'', Mr Morris said.

During searches, the Owaka base would be used not only to plan and co-ordinate searches, but also to issue instructions to searchers in the field.

''Without that [capacity], the field operation does not work,'' Mr Morris said.

''Because everything is going through computers, all the information is being captured and recorded.

''If something has to go to a coroner ... he will have all the information and it will be in a form that he can follow.''

Balclutha Sergeant Martin Bull and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan will join members of Catlins LandSAR for the opening ceremony.

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