Disaster scenario exercise to test emergency services’ response

27/01/20 | Park News

A major disaster training exercise is to take place at Westcott.

Exercise Phoenix is a two-day operation on 24 and 25 March co-ordinated by Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service as part of the national Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Programme.  

The scenario the services will be working to will involve a small jet crashing into a rocket testing and fuel production facility following an unsuccessful emergency landing. Visual props will be used to replicate a scene that could face the first responders to such an incident.

It will quickly emerge that several people are unaccounted for both in the plane and in the building itself, triggering a full-scale emergency response.

The USAR capability in Aylesbury is one of 20 in the country involving firefighters with advanced skills designed to tackle major incidents. Alongside a variety of specialist equipment, the local crews have an additional team member called Huw, who has four legs and a wagging tail. Huw, a chocolate Lab/Springer cross, or Springador is the newest fully-fledged member of the USAR team, and is their live scent detection dog.

The programme was set up after the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001 as part of the government’s New Dimension programme which seeks to enhance the capability of the fire and rescue service to respond to a range of major emergencies such as collapsed buildings, major transportation incidents, natural disasters and terrorist activity. 

New Dimension is intended to provide a range of equipment, people and procedures to allow a co-ordinated national response to catastrophic events of various types, not necessarily linked to terrorist activity.

Cross-service training exercises such as the one planned for Westcott, are usually staged every three years, and offer a key opportunity for the specially trained technicians to practice a coordinated, efficient response.

USAR zonal partners from Norfolk, Leicestershire, Essex and the West Midlands will join the Aylesbury crews for this exercise at Westcott.

Daniel Jubb, Managing Director of The Falcon Project, a propulsion company based at Westcott will also be taking part in the exercise.  He will advise emergency responders on the issues surrounding the jet crashing into a rocket testing facility. 

The exercise will take place at the K1 and K2 areas of the Park which are historic rocket testing sites. They are big enough to accommodate the large numbers of vehicles and up to 100 personnel who will also include the Hazardous Area Rescue Team paramedics trained to work alongside USAR as well as Police Disaster Victim Identification teams.

A section of plane will be used along with trained actors, while a large pile of rubble normally recycled into new buildings will allow crews to carry out tunnelling exercises and help mock-up buildings on the verge of collapse.

Although the exercise will run for two days, crews will be on site from Monday 16 March and tenants should not be alarmed if they see emergency serviced personnel on site at that time.

Kevin Mercer, Aylesbury Fire Station Commander, said: “These exercises are extremely important to ensure the emergency service co-ordination in response to a major incident.

“Scenarios such as this can happen at any time and we need to be ready to respond in the most effective way possible to save lives.

“Everything on site will be returned to normal once the exercise is finished. Should anyone like to know more then we will have someone available at specific times on the day to answer questions and talk you through our activity. Details will be made available closer to the exercise.”

The first day of the exercise will deal with the incident while the second is dedicated to debriefing the teams involved.

Jayne Cannell, Westcott Business Park Manager, said: “We recognise the national importance of such exercises and at the Park we have the space and facilities to make it as realistic as possible. It is another great example of us working in partnership with the community.”

Daniel Jubb, Managing Director of The Falcon Project explains: “The Falcon Project works closely with the emergency services. We are always happy to support training exercises and we thank the members of our emergency services who put their lives on the line every day to keep us all safe.”

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service will be making a donation, on behalf of Westcott Venture Park, to a charity of our choice.

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