Daniel Eldson, assistant resilience consultant, reports on his experience in supporting a major flooding exercise in England.
Storm Desmond caused an estimated £1.3m of damages when it struck on the 5th and 6th of December 2015. Disasters such as this provide context as to why agencies involved in emergencies must continually improve their readiness for major natural hazards, and in the case of the Environment Agency, being able to ‘think big, act early, and be visible’ which is core to their role. Exercise CERTUS was an example of flood planning and preparation with an exercise to test winter readiness plans, incident management, command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.
The exercise involved 1,000 participants across England, including the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room, National Operational Incident Management Team, Executive Directors and operational field staff.
Part of my role while developing the exercise was to consult all the area teams and develop unique scenarios for their area to respond to, depending on the level of response they wanted to simulate. This was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project for me, with the steepest learning curve, building realistic incident scenarios that we could work into the overall exercise. These ranged from simulating media interview requests, to managing damage to major flood assets. We then worked these scenarios into the larger CERTUS exercise. All of this area level information would then need to be managed at a national level, testing the EA’s command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.
During the live exercise, I provided telephone support to our facilitators and managed injects to each of the 16 areas from the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room with over 500 emails and supporting documents being sent to participants via an exercise messaging system.
The exercise allowed us to test the deployment of temporary flood barriers, pumps and other mobile incident response equipment to support communities remaining at risk of flooding. This activity in turn allowed the new Major Incident, Temporary Defence and Pump Deployment plans to be tested. What struck me with this exercise was the ability to effectively test winter readiness and being prepared for the next major flood. In particular, making sure everyone is prepared to respond when the time comes: 10% of those who took part in CERTUS were new to incident management, and almost all reported that they felt more confident in their role as a result.