London is conducting a series of ‘major incident’ drills this week – the largest of its kind ever conducted in Europe – putting the emergency services to the test in a number of disaster training exercises.
On Monday seven Tube carriages were buried under thousands of tons of rubble that poured into Waterloo station following a mock collapse of a tower block on the station. Emergency services had to deal with the hundreds of ‘dead’ bodies scattered throughout the ‘disaster zone’ in day one of upcoming emergencies scheduled for this week.
Over the next four days, some 2,000 blood-covered volunteers will act as ‘victims’, with fake sliced limbs and open wounds recreating the blood and gore of such a large scale incident.
Teams from four different countries will use the drill to put into practise the skills needed in the event of a major emergency, such as a terror attack.
To create the most realistic environment possible, Waterloo Underground station has been built and then ‘crushed’ at the disused Littlebrook power station in Dartford, Kent. A video taken from the scene captures actors pretending to be victims screaming in the aftermath of the building collapse.
With more than 1,000 casualties, thousands of tonnes of rubble, seven Tube carriages and hundreds of emergency service responders, Exercise Unified Response (EUR), co-ordinated by the London Fire Brigade, has been over a year in the planning.
It is the largest-ever training exercise in the 150 year history of the Brigade.
Police, firefighters and paramedics will this week work side-by-side with more than 70 partner agencies including local councils, utility companies and specialist search and rescue teams to respond to the disaster during the four-day drill.
Disaster victim identification teams from all UK police regions are also working alongside other forensic specialists in a mortuary on site.
Teams will also be working alongside firefighters from Italy, Hungary and Cyprus who will also be mobilised to the incident on Wednesday.
The massive scale of the incident gives specialist teams an opportunity to practise skills and functions that are rarely used but are necessary in the event of a major disaster.
In recent years specially trained teams from around the UK have been deployed to assist in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 and the Shoreham Air Crash in August last year.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson, said: ‘Exercises of this scale are important to ensure that we are always ready to respond no matter what happens.
‘You can’t get this sort of experience from a text book, we need to play it like it’s real and ensure that should the worst happen, our response is effective and well coordinated. It’s fitting that this exercise should be part of our 150th celebrations as it shows how we have developed as a Brigade.
‘The modern fire service is no longer just about fires, we have a range of skills including carrying out complex rescues from height, detecting hazardous materials and rescuing people from water.
‘However, Exercise Unified Response is not just about the rescues; an incident of this size affects everyone from thousands of stranded commuters who can’t get home, to distraught relatives who can’t reach loved ones.
‘We are working with TfL, local councils and various voluntary organisations to simulate the wider and longer term impacts that any major disaster would have on the community.
‘Although this scenario is not a terrorist attack, we will be practising procedures and systems that are common to any emergency that results in a large number of fatalities and injuries.
‘For example, hundreds of people left the 7/7 London bombings without physical injury, but found themselves struggling psychologically in the years that followed. In this scenario police and local authorities will set up a Humanitarian Assistance Centre which offers information and support.
‘The exercise will also be rigorously observed by independent evaluators and any lessons learned will be used to improve the way in which we respond to future emergency incidents.’
Chief Constable Debbie Simpson, of the National Police Chiefs, said: ‘Victim identification is never a pleasant subject to discuss but it is unfortunately a reality.
‘When disaster strikes families need to be confident that the authorities are doing everything they can to identify their loved ones in a dignified and respectful way, whilst supporting any criminal investigation.
‘Importantly this process cannot be hurried. As frustrating as this can sometimes be, especially in a world of fast paced mainstream and social media, we have to be meticulous in our approach to ensure we achieve reliable scientific identification.
‘It’s not often we get to test working practices on such a scale and it’s really positive to see so many of our European colleagues involved. Effective evaluation and debriefing will help highlight good practice and any areas for development.’