Exercise Isambard

Members of Wiltshire & Swindon LRF have been busy participating in several exercises recently. One of these was Exercise Isambard, which was designed to test a multi-agency response to an incident in Box Tunnel. Isambard is the first name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer who designed and built the tunnel itself.

Exercise IsambardBox Tunnel is a 1.8 mile long tunnel situated on the main London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads railway line between the small town market town of Corsham to the east and the village of Box to the west. The tunnel is an important piece of railway infrastructure connecting the West Country to London and is located entirely in the County of Wiltshire. The floor of the tunnel has recently been lowered to allow for electrification of the line between London Paddington and Cardiff. The electrification project is being undertaken by Network Rail.

The table top exercise, which took six months to plan involved local responders from Wiltshire Police, Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service, South Western Ambulance Service, Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough Council, NHS England, Public Health England and the Environment Agency. They worked with colleagues from voluntary agencies and the rail industry including Network Rail, Great Western Railway, British Transport Police and appropriate regulatory bodies. All attendees were put through their paces dealing with a rapidly unfolding incident involving a train derailment with a number of fatalities and a significant number of injured passengers. The initial response presented a number of challenges such as logistics, contamination from leaking diesel and included looking to see how communications could be established deep inside the tunnel itself. Media leads looked at how a coordinated media response could be achieved and health professionals examined how large numbers of casualties could be managed across the NHS. The latter part of the exercise focused on the recovery phase and how the incident could be managed to bring the line back into use whilst ensuring dignified recovery of the dead, preserving evidence and pursuing all avenues of  investigation.

The exercise will now be debriefed to see if there are any gaps in multi-agency planning or what amendments need to be made to existing arrangements.

Bob Young, Emergency Planning Manager at Wiltshire Police and Exercise Director said “This was an important exercise. Any incident in Box Tunnel would present some unique challenges to responding agencies, so it is essential that we exercise together to tease out the difficulties we’d face in responding to such an emergency. Having identified the issues we can now plan ahead. It was pleasing to see agencies so committed to working together to resolve the scenario presented.”

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