Cleveland RAYNET Group
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Exercise Mary was a table-top event organised by the Cleveland Emergency Services and Emergency Planning Unit. It took place at Cleveland Police HQ on a Thursday from 08:30 hrs until 17:00 hrs.
Exercises can take various forms. They could be "in the field" and the various professional Blue Light organisations practise their roles and liaise with voluntary disaster relief organisations. They could be simple walk-through exercises with no tricks involved. They could be difficult exercises with twists and turns. The organisers may keep throwing spanners into the works.
The table-top exercise is nearly all theory. It is a case of a lot of talking and listening, but not much doing. A disaster or some other major incident is assumed to be happening in compressed time. Different organisations are placed together at different tables. The scenario initially unfolds slowly. Organisations find out what others do and what facilities they have. The organisers may state a situation and ask each group what could be done to deal with it and who should do it.
The idea behind such table-top exercises is that it makes people think a lot and they learn a lot. It may normally be comparatively easy for those in the lower ranks of each organisation. They may not be expected to do much thinking, just to obey instructions. For those who may be issuing instructions, it is good to have the practise in an office environment at which everybody present knows that most people are going to make some mistakes and wrong decisions in the next few hours.
Major disasters are extremely rare. They occur in different geographical areas, so if one region has the experience of dealing with a disaster, it may never see another one for many many years, by which time those with the direct experience are no longer present. The 999 services may have general and specific plans in place, but won't be able to go efficiently through the steps required unless they have first taken part in exercises.
Only Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller attended on behalf of RAYNET. There were about 50 people present and the grouping of participants
Cleveland County Council EPO (Emergency Planning Officer), Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.
Senior divisional officers and junior officers for liaison with other groups.
Senior divisional officers and junior officers for liaison with other groups.
Senior divisional officers and junior officers for liaison with other groups.
Gas, Electricity, Water, BT, Rivers, Rail.
DoT, DSS, MAFF, COI.
Women's Royal Voluntary Service, British Red Cross Society, St John Ambulance, Salvation Army, RAYNET, N.E. Scouts Comms Group, Council of Churches.
Trainee journalists, Teesside Airport, North Tees Hospital.
The events which were said to occur didn't really occur. It was a case of discussion, pretence and what happens next. The only real events were when Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller became bored with inaction and initiated a group callout, and when the trainee journalists gave the Emergency Services a severe grilling.
The initial report of the incident came from Air Traffic Controllers at Teesside Airport to the police. At 08:50 hrs, a medium sized passenger aircraft had collided with a light aircraft over the town of Yarm and both had vanished from radar.
Police patrols responded to this and passed back information to the Police Control Room. The rear section of the passenger aircraft has hit the bank of the River Tees on the Yarm side. It is at an angle of 60 degrees with part on the river bank and the tail end in the river.
The main part of the passenger aircraft has landed on Presto supermarket car park. The starboard wing has little damage but is leaking fuel. The port wing has heavy damage and is on fire. It looks like the other wing will catch fire soon.
Gas mains have been ruptured and are on fire. Electricity supplies have been cut off.
There is an RTA on the High Street at the front of the supermarket involving a double-decker bus, brewery delivery wagon and an unknown number of cars and cyclists. An unknown number of pedestrians are injured. Opposite the supermarket, a bank is on fire. This area of road is covered in a large amount of broken glass and beer kegs.
The location of the light aircraft hasn't yet been found but police can see fire and smoke at the north end of Yarm, where the bridge crosses the Tees.
The Emergency Services discussed this and quickly agreed to declare a Major Incident and to implement the Cleveland Major Incident Plan and to alert and mobilise many organisations and personnel.
At 09:12 hrs, Cleveland EPO advised RAYNET that the incident had occurred and requested that members be alerted. Cleveland RAYNET Controller produced a radio which he just happened to have in his pocket and did so.
At 09:25 hrs the Red Cross requested RAYNET to man BRCS HQ in Park Road North, Middlesbrough. This was in accordance with longstanding plans as both Red Cross and St. John first aiders will rendezvous at the BRCS HQ on a major incident.
The Red Cross told RAYNET at 09:42 hrs that they had been informed by the EPO that a Rest Centre would be established at Egglescliffe School. This was followed by further information at 09:50 hrs that there would be a stand-by Rest Centre at Conyers School.
More information was provided by the police. At the north end of Yarm High Street, the road goes over a bridge across the River Tees towards Stockton. This bridge is one of the two ways of entering Yarm. The Piper light aircraft had hit the railway viaduct leaving wreckage on the line but most of the remains had fallen onto houses next to the road bridge and the fuel had caught alight and exploded. Gas is escaping from damaged houses causing further explosions and fires. Window glass litters this end of the High Street. There is only one other road into Yarm. The area's roads are gridlocked with stationary vehicles.
British Rail realise that a train carrying toxic Chlorine has gone on the line towards Yarm from Stockton but signals show that it has not left the Yarm area.
By 10:00 hrs a message was received by radio from a RAYNET member at home that nine RAYNET members had been contacted and confirmed as being available. Feed-back after the event showed that this was a low figure due to the exercise conditions. The telephone callout message to members' places of work was along the lines of "Is John there please?". If the RAYNET member was not immediately available then it was thought unwise to ask for that person to be contacted, to save straining relations with employers. Under exercise conditions, actions words such as "emergency" and "urgent" can not be used.
The above caused complaints from some RAYNET members later in the day and after the event. Not because their colleagues had been put to any trouble, but because no great efforts had been made to contact them if they weren't near their telephone, although they may have been in the same building or easily contactable by company radio or radiopager. The first some had known about the exercise had been when it was all over and they were unhappy that they hadn't been involved.
The Red Cross at 10:07 hrs requested RAYNET to man the two Rest Centres. A discussion took place with the Scouts at 10:09 hrs to swap manning details. The Scouts would be manning both Rest Centres and providing each with a telephone system with eight extensions. They were about to contact BT to discuss connecting their portable telephone systems to existing BT lines at the two Rest Centres. The Scouts confirmed at 10:17 hrs that they had allocated personnel to the schools. It was agreed that as RAYNET would be manning the County Emergency Control, the Scouts wouldn't need to.
Further information arrived at 11:07 hrs. These disclosed details of the rescue work and general situation at the incident. The total number of casualties, fatalities, homeless and evacuees could reach 320.
By 11:30 hrs information was received that it could reach a total of 573. This seemed a remarkably accurate estimate, considering the supposed chaos in Yarm!
By this time, RAYNET had personnel at: County Emergency Control, BRCS HQ, both Rest Centres and quite a few members at the Voluntary Aids Centre/RV Point at Preston Park. The latter were there not only to provide communications for the voluntary organisations at the RV point, but to be close at hand to man any other locations in the incident area if necessary.
A (real) radio message was received by the RAYNET Controller at 11:28 hrs saying that Richmond RAYNET group had been heard passing exercise messages. It had not been known beforehand that Richmond RAYNET would be active. It was suggested that a radio message be sent to them at a convenient point in their exercise saying that for exercise MARY purposes, they were now informed of the incident at Yarm. At this time it was decided to alert the County Controller for the Durham RAYNET groups and the County Controller for the Yorkshire RAYNET Groups.
The CEPO department was updated with the comms. situation at 11:50 hrs and had no further requirements at that time. The Red Cross Director was similarly updated at 12:00 hrs and had no further requirements.
Telephone calls were made to RAYNET members who hadn't been contacted initially and a further four were available. One of these is a doctor who thought that his services would be more useful at South Tees Hospital than operating for RAYNET.
Considerations for phase 2 included the staffing of the comms. points for a protracted period. Estimates suggested that the main Rest Centre and Survivors' Reception Centre would be open for days. Survivors' relatives could also be likely to need these centres for accommodation.
The instructions also included RAYNET to prepare to send a team to the incident scene's Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). This was an open area near Yarm Town Hall where the 999 services had established their Forward Controls. Triage and first aid were carried out here. The Fire Brigade were doing the rescue work at the two aircraft crash points and casualties were being stretchered to the CCS area by Army personnel from Catterick.
The Scouts sent a team to the incident scene. A couple of RAYNET personnel from the VAC/RV point were the obvious ones to send to the incident scene when required. Staffing levels would depend on the reported amount of work being done at each comms. point manned by RAYNET. The rough plan was to have two RAYNET operators at each of the six locations involved.
In situations requiring a large amount of message passing, RAYNET would consider changing from speech mode to packet data mode at some locations. This means the message is typed into a computer terminal and then sent via radio to its destination. It is very effective at moving a large number of messages between locations whilst being extremely efficient in the use of a radio channel as the time actually spent occupying the channel is very low. Nine members of Cleveland RAYNET Group have packet data facilities and all other RAYNET groups have a similar capability.
Updated information indicated that there are no electricity supplies working along the High Street or immediate side streets. Other parts of Yarm are also affected. There's a strong smell of gas at many points on the High Street. Telephones do not work south of the bridge. There is no water supply working on the east side of the High Street - the supermarket side - and water pressure is very low on the west side. There have been many minor accidents due to traffic build-up on the two roads into Yarm. There are tail-backs to the A67 north and south, A135 and B1265. High Street access is blocked by traffic and is particularly bad near the bridge.
This was the press conference with each organisation supplying a
press statement. The general RAYNET policy regarding the media at an incident is to refer all enquiries to the police or other professional
organisations. The press statement prepared during the exercise was:-
Three (unfortunate) junior officers from the Police, Fire and Ambulance were designated to host the press conference. The trainee journalists had been kept in a different part of Police HQ up to this point and had been supplied with the occasional piece of information by a police sergeant. They were given plenty of time to digest the press statements and were then led into the room.
The journalists asked the police some questions and were answered efficiently. They then asked how many people were dead. The police said that they didn't know at this time but eventually they would issue a statement about the number of fatalities. One young woman journalist went into attack mode. Well roughly or vaguely how many? We can't say at present. Have you been to the incident yourself? No. In that case, I'll ask the Fire Brigade officer if he's been at the incident. Yes. How many people are dead? We're not sure about exact figures. Well roughly how many? I'm not sure. Did you see any dead bodies yourself? Yes. How many did you actually see? Was it more than ten? Was it more than thirty? Was it less than a hundred?
This continued with the Ambulance officer, until the exercise director called a halt to the proceedings. The Deputy Chief Constable asked the junior Ambulance officer why he had been reluctant to quote figures. The reply was that it seemed best for him to go along with his Fire Brigade colleague. The Deputy Chief Constable asked the junior Fire Brigade officer why he had been reluctant to quote figures. The reply was that it seemed best for him to go along with his police colleague. The Deputy Chief Constable asked the junior police officer why he had been reluctant to quote figures. The reply was that he wasn't too certain about how to conduct a press conference and it simply seemed best not to quote fatality figures until accurate information was known.
The Deputy Chief Constable asked the young woman journalist why she had been so keen to know about the number of dead. The reply was that it was a normal question which the public expected to know. Besides that, the liaison police sergeant had told her that junior officers are often reluctant to provide figures in the early stages of an incident and that he had suggested that she gave the Emergency Services spokesmen a hard time. She was led to believe that the police sergeant had done this on the instructions of the Deputy Chief Constable!
The trainee journalists left the room to loud applause.
The scenario paperwork indicated that the initial major rescue work has been completed. The influx of the media had enlarged the telephone problem. The cell phone network, Eaglescliffe and Stockton exchanges were overloaded. Relatives and friends of survivors were beginning to arrive, presenting a need for accommodation and welfare.
The casualty list and disposition of local residents was available. It showed 40 fatalities, 37 serious injuries, 47 injuries, 58 slight injuries and 114 homeless. Total 296.
It was now nine hours into the incident. Considerations included longer-term staffing requirements, reserve manpower and arrangements for staff welfare.
Adjacent and distant RAYNET groups were available on the day of the incident and afterwards to help man the required locations for as long as needed. Other RAYNET groups would be requested to supply night shifts with Cleveland Group supplying the day shift. It is important to have reserve personnel available in the county to supply extra communications needs as they become necessary. Experience at Lockerbie showed that it was possible to get one hundred RAYNET operators to the incident even though it was Christmas.
Feeding and refreshments should be no great problem with the WRVS supplying the bulk of it using school kitchens. Yarm area had no gas or electricity supplies and the latter had to be considered for the recharging of handportable radio batteries, especially for RAYNET operators who had travelled long distances and would sleep at a Rest Centre rather than their homes. Most handportable RAYNET radios can run on non-rechargable batteries of C, D or AA size and a supply would be requested from the CEPO.
RAYNET operators would be reminded that one Cleveland Group member is a trained PhD disaster relief stress counsellor and that such counselling is available for those who would like to take advantage of it from the Salvation Army and Social Services. Counselling will be available during the incident period and at any time afterwards.
The County Secretary when closing the meeting gave special thanks to RAYNET for attending and said he was aware of the vital contribution given at the Lockerbie incident.
Concerning traffic jams, the Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller agreed with the Air Traffic Controller from Teesside Airport who suggested at the exercise that the initially estimated times for many vehicles to make their way through the nine o'clock traffic to the incident were on the optimistic side.
One of the two main routes into or out of Yarm was cut off by the aircraft crash. RAYNET discussed with him the possibility of using helicopters to transport personnel and portable equipment from the Preston Park RV point to the incident if the traffic jam severely hampered movement of personnel. He could see no problem with that idea. All the helicopters need is good visibility and a safe place to land. There will normally be from two to five helicopters available to assist in this, if requested. Nobody during the exercise had requested helicopter assistance. Flying time from RAF Boulmer is about 40 minutes.
It was glaringly obvious to everybody in the room that the name of exercise Mary had been chosen at it is an anagram of Yarm. Totally obvious to everybody except the Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller, who failed that intelligence test.
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Page updated on 09 January 2017