Europe’s largest civil resilience exercise comes to a successful end

Published:  10 September, 2010

Exercise Orion has run for three days at Fort Widley on Portsdown Hill (UK) and during that time more than 800 crew and support staff have simulated the devastation and chaos resulting should an earthquake strike the UK.

Local agencies taking part have included Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Hampshire Constabulary, South Central Ambulance, Fareham Borough Council and the Environment Agency.

Travelling from further afield have been urban search and rescue specialists from Kent, Lincolnshire, West Sussex, Lancashire, Mid and West Wales, Grampian and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Services.

While international teams taking part in Exercise Orion have included Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.

Overseeing the exercise have been assessors from the USA and at least one representative from nearly every other European Union nation.

The scenario behind Exercise Orion was to look at how the UK and Europe would respond to a mid sized earthquake striking the UK.

This scenario was selected due to its unlikelihood of ever occurring in the UK and as a result responders here are not regularly trained to deal with such a situation.

As a result, if this did occur the UK would most likely need foreign assistance and would activate the European Civil Protection Mechanism and receive assistance from Europe.

Exercise Orion was designed to look at how international teams would work together to overcome obvious barriers such as language and different working practices.

But it was also designed to share techniques and learn whilst operating in a safe but very lifelike situation.

Exercise Director, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Group Manager, Peter Crook, said: “This exercise was always meant to stretch UK resources to the limit and it certainly achieved that with the British teams attending being overstretched almost from the beginning.

“The scenarios were very realistic and complex, due in part to Fort Widley’s dynamic design but also the scale of detail that went into every scenario. These were the kinds of scenes that responders could face if an earthquake really did occur and nothing was held back.

“I wish to thank all who took part in Exercise Orion and believe they will enjoy a welcome break after this.”

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief and American Urban Search and Rescue Team 2 Leader, Pat Rohaley, was one of the exercise assessors. He added: “Exercise Orion was very well organised and executed.

“I believe it has gone a long way in creating an awareness within the UK of how it would access EU assistance and taken the country through the mechanisms that come in to play as well as demonstrating to the rest of Europe how the UK would respond to a major incident.”

Exercise Orion was the UK’s first live European Union civil protection exercise. It was led by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service following a successful funding bid to the European Union and hosted by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service due to its excellent training facilities.

Exercise Orion was assessed at every stage by evaluators from across Europe and the United States. A full debrief will now take place with all assessors writing up their final reports. These will then be submitted and a final summary will be released later in the year.

The next issue of Fire & Rescue, due to be published at the end of November, will feature inside coverage of the event.

  • Operation Florian

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