The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) Flood Rescue Team are this week taking part in the European Union’s biggest ever emergency exercise.
The Flood Rescue Team (FRT), supported by Goodyear, have travelled to Northern Holland to take part in a unique exercise simulating the tidal surge that devastated the UK and Holland in 1953, resulting in over 2,000 fatalities.
Specialist rescue teams from all over Europe – including the UK, Poland, Germany, Sweden and Estonia – are working alongside each other for the extent of the exercise, which is called Floodex (www.floodex.eu).
Organisers say that by training together, rescue agencies from different countries will be better prepared to co-operate in the event of a major disaster.
The summer of 2007 saw the worst flooding in a generation in many parts of England and Wales, when more than 7,000 people were rescued from their homes. During June and July that year the emergency services were stretched to breaking point.
It is doubtful they would be able to cope in the event of a storm surge in the North Sea, without international assistance. And Floodex organisers say climate change may increase the risk of major flooding in Europe.
Gareth Wilson, FRT team leader, explains: ‘When we carry out normal training exercises, we usually have a command team that knows what is going on because that team will set the exercise. Here, we haven’t planned the exercise and we have to work with other teams and incorporate what we do into someone else’s framework.'
He added: ‘All the teams taking part in Floodex have different communication methods, different equipment and different ways of operating, but we are all coming together to work towards the same aim.’
Sloane Phillips, FRT member and paramedic, who is usually based at Hastings Lifeboat Station, was among those taking part in Floodex. She explained that the exercise involved around 400 ‘live casualties’ – volunteers who were taking part by pretending to be people caught by the flood.
The FRT had to treat these people as if they were real victims of a flooding disaster. Some casualties wore labels detailing their ‘injuries’, which then had to be treated by crew members; others deliberately became panicky, rushing at the rescue boats as they approached.
Sloane said: ‘When we reached the scene, we found one of the casualties was trapped inside a half-submerged car. I treated him at the scene and evaluated his injuries. I then monitored him as we brought him back to the shore.’
Once back on shore, the casualties were decontaminated by rescue workers, as they would be in real life, while medical staff attended to the ‘injured’.
Sloane added: ‘The main difficulty we faced was working with people who don’t all speak the same language, but it makes it very realistic.’
The Floodex exercise runs for four days (September 22 to 25), and the teams taking part have to live in tents and eat only basic rations, to make conditions as lifelike as possible.
One of the major challenges was deploying all the equipment from the UK. More than 30 trucks, many towing rescue boats, as well as other specialist vehicles travelled in convoy from the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire to North Holland.
FRT member Jason Webber, from Bridlington Lifeboat Station, said: ‘It’s been an excellent exercise. Working with other agencies is very useful. It’s also very close to how we had to operate during the floods in Gloucester in 2007, when we had to work alongside the Fire Service.’
In fact, at several times during the Floodex exercise, the FRT were deployed to carry firefighters with specialist cutting equipment to areas where they were most needed.
Team member Peter Leigh, usually based at Littlestone Lifeboat Station, said the exercise was a chance to demonstrate the ‘flexibility and professionalism’ of the RNLI.
The FRT were the only team of volunteers from a charity invited to attend the event, working alongside government-funded agencies. They supplied two of the seven swift-water rescue trained crews and boats taking part in the exercise.
The UK’s response to the exercise was coordinated by Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.
About the RNLI Flood Rescue Team: Formed in 2000, the RNLI charity’s Flood Rescue Team (FRT) is available at 24 hours notice to deploy anywhere in the world where waterborne search and rescue is needed due to natural disaster.
The RNLI FRT is also a declared facility to the UK Government via the Department for International Development (DfID). RNLI FRT members are all either serving volunteer lifeboat crew members or operational RNLI staff who volunteer to be a part of the team. The RNLI FRT depends on donations from the public and from organisations such as Goodyear to fund specialist training and equipment.
The RNLI also has representation on the Flood Response National Enhancement Programme (FRNEP), which is being lead by Defra in England and is responsible for delivering a new flood rescue capability. Floodex provides an opportunity to test the new arrangements being put in place for major flood responses across the UK.
Notes to editors
- Photo captions: 1. The RNLI Flood Rescue Teams in action in Holland. 2. The FRT in convoy during Floodex. More photographs and video footage will be available via the press centre soon.
- In addition to the RNLI FRT, other rescue and support teams taking part in the exercise include: Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service West Midlands Fire Service Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service Essex Fire and Rescue Service Northern Ireland Fire Service Combined Fire and Rescue Service teams representing Wales and Scotland Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Helicopters
- For more information, go to the official Floodex website http://www.floodex.eu/
RNLI media contacts
- For more information please telephone RNLI PR on 01202 336 789 or contact RNLI Public Relations Officer Pamela Saunders or Joanna Quinn on 01202 663510 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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