Serve On volunteers proved the value of collaboration when they joined forces with rescue teams from across Europe for the UK’s biggest annual disaster simulation exercise last week.
The International Response Team, Community Resilience Teams, Dog Team and Rescue Rookies were all involved in the highly influential Simex Series which featured 62 agencies, 684 role players and more than 3,000 participants.
Our Salisbury Community Resilience Team was once again a key player for the national rescue scenarios on day one of the exercise , setting up its Voluntary Agency Coordination Cell (VACC) to support the local authorities, emergency services and other rescue organisations.
The VACC, positioned in the grounds of historic Fort Widley, near Portsmouth, enabled police, fire, medical, lifeboat and NGO chiefs to come together to coordinate water rescues, rope rescues and other ‘emergency’ responses arising out of the scenario of a major storm having hit the south coast.
It also doubled as a UNHCR reception centre for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Day Two of the Simex Series saw the arrival of international teams into the fictional storm-ravaged Republic of Mas.
Members of Serve On’s International Response team ‘flew in’ from our HQ at Chilmark to a notional Reception Departure Centre (RDC) (actually at Eastleigh Fire Station) together with UKIVRA colleagues from SPEAR and from SARAID and with EVOLSAR colleagues from SAR Team and the bombeiros of BV Peniche from Portugal, the Central Budapest Volunteer Civil Protection team (OPVE) from Hungary, the Emergency Fire and Rescue Unit (EFRU) from Malta, the Edelweiss Protezione Civile from Calabria, Italy, and the Unidad Canina e Rescate y Salvamento (UCRS) from Madrid, Spain.
They were greeted by armed militia and injured and hungry refugees intent on grabbing any food, water or equipment they could.
With the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team (UNDAC) caught up in the chaos, it fell to the Serve On-led joint EVOLSAR team to set up an RDC for incoming NGOs until the UNDAC team could take over.
No sooner had the EVOLSAR team moved on and set up a Base of Operations (BoO) in the grounds of Fort Widley than they were tasked with assessing reports of a landslide and arrived on scene to find a mass casualty incident.
They triaged the injured, recovered the most seriously ‘injured’ and the walking wounded and set about rescuing other casualties ‘buried’ in the rubble as team leader Brett, assisted by Rab, liaised with the UN’s On Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) from the BoO.
Day three of the exercise saw EVOLSAR teams involved in a series of technical searches to locate buried casualties, aided by great work from Serve On’s Dog Team, before the USAR technicians used their breaking and breaching skills to get through collapsed concrete structures to rescue the injured.
On day four there was another mass casualty event for the teams to handle, with a ‘bridge collapse’ and the threat of a dam burst requiring the rescuers to deal with numerous IDPs and to use rope techniques to reach others who were ‘trapped’.
There were plenty of lessons to learn, which is always the point of the exercises, but all of the teams worked incredibly well together throughout the simulated scenarios.
Simex exercise director Phil Crook, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, which helped to organise the event with the Universities of Portsmouth and Liverpool, said: “Exercises like this are vital in developing and maintaining skills and getting valuable experience working alongside partners.”
A big thank-you to all of the players and, in particular, all the students from Basingstoke College of Technology and Brockenhurst College who helped to build the VACC and/or took the role of brilliantly-made-up casualties. Thanks too to Iridium for our satellite communications.
Our own Matt captured some of the action:
And so did the Department for International Development (DfID):
As did Action Media International, and we are grateful for the use of some of their photos: