AREC Response to Cyclone Gabrielle

Cyclone Gabrielle - Auckland AREC response

8-16 February 2023

On 8 February AREC was notified that a very significant weather system was approaching Auckland and had the potential to severely disrupt power and telecommunications infrastructure.  The cyclone was expected to hit Auckland overnight on Sunday 12th February.

AREC was asked to activate and be prepared to  provide radio communication support across the entire Auckland Region for Civil Defence Centres, field teams comprising of a mix of NZ Response Teams, NZ Defence force personnel, and other volunteers. 

Main Operating position at AREC North Shore Comms Base

AREC developed a detailed communication plan and personnel rosters to assist with the operation.  Radio Comms planned for the disastrous event consisted of: 

• AEM VHF network – 8 x channels (ESB Band) for CD coordination 

• Commercial – 2x channels (1x EE band, 1x CN band) 

• Amateur – 3x repeater channels (Auckland 670 2m repeater, Kohukohunui 875 STSP, ZL1BQ ZK  DMR) for coordination and liaison between AREC members.  

Due to an outage of an AEM repeater a crossband repeater using UHF uplink from the comms base with an ESB band simplex downlink provided to the operational area.  

Fourteen Civil Defence centres were established throughout the Auckland region and AREC maintained VHF contact with these centres, and also local community response groups in the Rodney District and Waiheke Island together with various AEM and NZ Response Team resources. 

Communications Plan for Cyclone Gabrielle. The majority of comms activity was on channels highlighted in yellow

AREC was based at the North Shore CDEM base (400 East Coast Road Sunnynook) and provided the link between the field teams throughout Auckland and the Incident Management Team located at the Auckland Emergency Coordination Centre in the Auckland CBD; reporting, and general situation reporting for the duration of the emergency.

Operations commenced at Midday Sunday 12th February, and continued until the following Thursday, with AREC providing 24 hour monitoring of the channels due to concerns for remote communities in the Rodney area where communication and power was down.

As well as operating the radios AREC volunteers assisted with in a number of roles as  communicators, log keepers (recording messages, forwarding messages via e-mail, data entry), using SARTrack and other computer systems.  We also had several members acting in as support role, handling phone calls, logistics seeing to the feeding and watering of volunteers. 

Alastair Anderson ZL1NEO operating via the temporary crossband repeater providing comms to South Auckland Civil Defence Centres

AREC member Soren Low ZL1SKL sourced 60 VHF radios. He, along with Jim Smith ZL1TGS, spent eight hours programming these radios onto CDEM channels, then ioaning them to AEM.

A team on Waiheke Island, led by Joe Bell ZL1PMY, were able to issue handheld radios to the island communities and provide VHF coverage using their private commercial VHF repeater, to maintain contact 24 hours a day for the duration of the operation. 

 Without this support, evacuation centres around Auckland would not have had any backup communications.

Tait VHF Portable radios loaned by AREC awaiting distribution to Civil Defence Centres

During the afternoon of 14 February, we were requested to provide a portable repeater to provide on-scene comms for rescue workers operating at Muriwai in the search of a missing volunteer firefighter who was killed when a landslide destroyed a home that was being searched. The incident scene was at the base of a steep cliff which prevented VHF comms via any of the Auckland CDEM repeaters. The ESB164 inter-agency liaison repeater was deployed  by the North Shore Response team NZRT5. AREC conducted a computer coverage analysis of the area to locate a suitable site to provide good radio coverage of the scene and also direct comms into the Sunnynook base.

AREC volunteers also provided and programmed equipment to allow comms with Welfare teams who were operating rented UHF portable radios on a commercial repeater channel on the Auckland Skytower. 

VHF coverage plot Red shows coverage of base radio from Comms Base. Blue shows coverage from handheld at Muriwai Incuident Scene

Combined plot showing overlap of red and blue (purple) - Possible location for siting of VHF Portable repeater to cover both incident scene and Sunnynook base.

AREC volunteers also provided and programmed equipment to allow comms with Welfare teams who were operating rented UHF portable radios on a commercial repeater channel on the Auckland Skytower. 

AREC was finally stood down at midday on Thursday 16 February, with a few members remaining on standby in case they were  needed. 


AREC operations and preparation were activated on 8 February, while actions commenced on 12 February and continued through to 16 February. During this time, 18 amateurs supported the operation at the base. A total of 25 people were on standby throughout the Auckland region to provide remote support if needed.

A total of 337 person-hours were worked by Auckland AREC volunteers during the emergency.