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The LRF has begun a busy schedule of exercises this autumn by taking part in Exercise Snowy Owl. Multi-agency exercising is aimed at responders being prepared and helping to keep the people of Wiltshire and Swindon safe.
On Tuesday 6th September 2016, Chemring Countermeasures near Amesbury was the venue for a ‘live’ operational exercise followed by a tactical table-top exercise involving managers and commanders from a variety of agencies. Chemring is a ‘top-tier’ site under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 known as COMAH. Consequently, they are legally required to protect their employees, third parties and members of the public who may be affected by their work activities. There are also various legal requirements that apply to protect the environment.
All COMAH sites tend to have significant quantities of flammable, environmentally hazardous or toxic substances on site which increases the potential to cause multiple injuries or fatalities to those working at the site or living in the local community. The COMAH Regulations aim to prevent major accidents and, should one happen, require businesses to limit the effects on people and the environment.
COMAH regulations requires ‘top-tier’ site operators to ensure that the consequences of a major accident at their site are minimised through the provision of effective ‘on-site’ emergency plans and response arrangements. These should dovetail with the ‘off-site’ emergency plans prepared by Local Authorities. The ‘on-site’ emergency plan details the roles of those working at the establishment have to play in the event of a major accident. They include the arrangements for assisting with emergency response in the surrounding area.
Chemring’s ‘on-site’ plan interfaces with the multi-agency ‘off-site’ plan prepared by Wiltshire Council. The Council plays a key role by preparing, reviewing, revising and testing ‘off-site’ emergency plans particularly focussing on the ‘off-site’ consequences of major accidents. The ‘off-site’ plan includes how the operator will communicate with the public, the emergency services and other authorities concerned in the area. This information is crucial because it allows those receiving it to decide what actions they need to take for their own safety and to mitigate the consequences of the accident.
Last Tuesday’s scenario was based on a helicopter crashing into the Chemring site while inbound to Boscombe Down. The Military provided the carcass of a Lynx helicopter and smoke was used to add realism for responders. Initially Chemring’s own first aiders and ‘on-site’ firefighters responded to the incident until the emergency services arrived. Police, Fire and Ambulance were able to test their joint emergency services interoperability principles that have been adopted nationally across all three services and originate from lessons learned from the 7/7 bombings.
The tactical phase repeated the scenario allowing a multi-agency response to be exercised in conjunction with site managers. Multi-agency partners included Wiltshire Council (supported by colleagues from Swindon Borough Council), Wiltshire Police, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service, South Western Ambulance Service, NHS England, Public Health England, Environment Agency and the Military. A ‘hot’ debrief was undertaken on the day and valuable learning was gained. All parties will now incorporate the lessons learned to refine both the ‘on-site’ and ‘off-site’ plans.
The plans have to be tested every three years and before we know it we’ll be at 2019!