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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/22/2011

FEMA official in New Zealand when quake struck

By Ed O'Keefe

Quake damage is spread out across much of Christchurch, New Zealand. (Simon Baker/Reuters)

The White House is deploying a team of disaster-response and urban-search-and-rescue teams to New Zealand in response to the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that rocked the country Tuesday.

They will be greeted there by FEMA Deputy Administrator Timothy W. Manning, who is already in the country assisting with response efforts and is uniquely qualified to do so.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time: Manning is a trained geologist, paramedic and firefighter -- the perfect combination for earthquake response. He's there as part of an American delegation visiting for trade and global security talks and to review the country's cleanup efforts following a September 7.0-magnitude quake.

Manning spoke Wednesday morning from Christchurch and recalled that he was about to board an airplane when the quake struck. The transcript of our telephone conversation follows, edited for space:

Timothy Manning
FEMA Deputy Administrator Timothy W. Manning. (Courtesy FEMA)

What did you do right after the quake?
Manning: A number of New Zealand police officers asked for any doctors, paramedics, or people who could assist. We joined up with a group of construction workers [at the airport] and commandeered a shuttle bus and worked our way into town and went block-by-block, searching for survivors.

... Now I'm working in support -- as FEMA always is, in international assistance situations -- in support of USAID and the State Department. I'm at the city operation center to assist and provide any assistance to Americans who may need help.

In that block-by-block search, did you guys find anyone needing assistance?
We did not find anybody that needed rescue. Some of our people peeled off and worked with other responders who were rescuing people in some of the buildings we came across.

Are there any reports of Americans missing or injured?
It's an extremely dynamic situation, and rescue is still ongoing. We, with the embassy team, are visiting hospitals and triage centers. I don't have any information on any U.S. citizens who've been injured, but the team is working diligently to identify anyone who's missing or may need assistance.

The earthquake struck at noon, at lunch, which is one of the reasons this will one will lead to tragedy compared to the other quake. People didn't have their cell phone chargers with them, so phones are dead. They didn't have their phones working and they didn't have travel documents with them, so that makes it more difficult.

Is the country well-equipped enough to deal with these types of events? How does its infrastructure measure up to what we have?
As was obvious from how far they had come in recovery from the last earthquake and what I've seen in the last 24 hours, they are very good here. New Zealanders have a strong sense of community and are very well-prepared and have come together very well.

Ironically, you studied earthquake science, correct?
My degree is in geology, I was a professional geologist before I got into emergency management.

So this is the perfect storm, if you will, for someone in your line of work.
In this line of work, a good day for us is when we don't have to do anything. But we spend all of our time preparing for whatever we have to do to help our neighbors and friends.

Had you ever been through a quake before?
Very small earthquakes, but never anything like this. I certainly have studied them and have responded to disasters for a number of years, but it's the first large earthquake I've been in the midst of.

Since FEMA is all about preventing disasters and I'm speaking to you during this unfortunate occurrence, I've got to ask you: What should people do to prevent potential quake damage to their home or office?
The experience you see here shows how importance preparedness is. Doing things like reinforcing your home if you live in un-reinforced masonry. Retrofitting vulnerable buildings and even things like securing bookshelves to walls. Planning to be able to reunify with your family.

When a disaster like this strikes in the middle of the day, too often you're separated. Parents may be at work while the children are at school, cell networks may be down and reunification can be difficult and a lengthy process. Having a plan for how to reunite with your family is critical. Always knowing, or having an idea of where to go is critical when something like this happens.

What's the first thing a person should do immediately after an earthquake?
The first thing of course is to drop, cover and hold and try to avoid flying debris. After an earthquake, try to get to a safe location. Aftershocks happen, as they did yesterday after the initial quake that caused more damage. Understand and know that the phone networks, even if they're up, it will be extremely difficult to get through. Make way for emergency responders, help others who may need help.

How much longer will you be there?
I was supposed to leave yesterday but skipped the evacuation flights in order to stay here. I'm here for as long as I'm needed.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 22, 2011; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Nice work Mr. Manning. Thank you for your service.

Posted by: YesIam | February 22, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

It's always so difficult to awake anytime and find that an earthquake has occurred, damaged cities and caused deaths in another country or ours, so I hope that the death toll is kept to a minimum and that New Zealanders can quickly recover from all the ramifications of this wretched event. Our prayers and thoughts are with all of you as we continue with the same for Haitians.I show all those pictures at and videos at it is really very much shocking. God must help all those people.

Posted by: mastermind7526 | February 23, 2011 4:27 AM | Report abuse

Really refreshing to read about a government administrator who's actually qualified for their job. This guy deserves a raise.

Posted by: CocoLopez | February 23, 2011 8:21 AM | Report abuse

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