About 120 police staff in Canterbury have been recognised for their services in the response to the February earthquake at a ceremony in Christchurch.
The staff are among more than 3600 members of police and other services who will be honoured for their help in the region.
Some 185 people died as a result of the 6.3-magnitude quake on 22 February 2011.
Police Commissioner Peter Marshall says those who have received the first awards on Wednesday worked on the ground in the immediate response to the quake.
"Staff who were on the ground who actually worked a shift and saw the devastation, saw the injury and saw the death.
"It was important to actually recognise those people who undertook that duty. And for the first time ever, we have taken the step of preparing a dress distinction."
Mr Marshall says the earthquake was one of the darkest days for Canterbury, and the New Zealand Police, but it showed their staff at their finest.
Award recipient Sergeant Dave Harvey helped 28 trapped people escape from the 14th floor of the Grand Chancellor Hotel after the liftwell and stairwell collapsed.
Mr Harvey says he commandeered a construction crane to get the people out of the building.
"There were several people who seemed to be making makeshift ropes out of blankets and things. That really terrified me that they were going to use that to escape from a building that high up. So we got some spraypaint and wrote on the road in big letters that help was on the way."
Mr Harvey says the earthquake response has been the most challenging event in his career.
Other awards are to be presented to representatives of other emergency services and Australian police officers who assisted in the recovery effort.