Monday 29 February 2016 saw the beginning of a four day long, massive multi-agency exercise held at a disused power station in Dartford, Kent.
Arranged by London Fire Brigade on behalf of London Resilience Partnership, it tested the response of emergency services to a mass casualty incident on a catastrophic scale. It simulated a high-rise tower block collapse onto Waterloo Underground Station, inflicting many injuries ranging from a cut finger, all the way to amputations. With such a significant event, it would even trigger the EU Civil Protection Mechanism
as well as initiate COBRA meetings
– the UK Government’s emergency response committee chaired by the Prime Minister. There were over 70 organisations taking part, such as Hazardous Area Response Teams
(HART), Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), partnered alongside disaster relief teams from Italy, Hungary and Cyprus.
So, with that description given, I’m sure you can imagine how excited we were, as Anglia Ruskin students, to be offered a part to play in this huge exercise. We woke up at 04.45 and proceeded to take various trains to the O2 arena in London where we were taken by coach to the exercise site in a convoy. As we arrived the sheer number of emergency vehicles parked up (at least in the hundreds) across the Fire, Ambulance and Police service overwhelmed us! Once inside I was given an ID card that shared my name, primary complaint (injury) and basic observations. I acted as a 34-year-old male with a large laceration (cut) to the left upper leg, with big fragments of glass embedded in the bleeding wound. I had a reduced level of consciousness, breathing at 39 breaths per minute, heart rate of 96 and unable to walk. The special effects makeup was very realistic, it was a rather weird experience walking around a disused warehouse seeing people with a flaps of skin hanging from various parts of their bodies; hats off to the makeup artists!
The exercise started at approximately 10.25, myself and three other ARU students had placed ourselves on top of a rubble pile that was blocking the only entrance to Waterloo Platform, only a small half a metre gap remained which allowed a British Transport Police officer to climb through and be the first person on scene. The platform was a scene of utter devastation and trauma, roughly 60 people were caught up in the collapse and, of that 60, around 30-40 casualties needed to be lifted out the station on a scoop stretcher and trolley – an extreme number for the emergency workers to cope with. After two hours of being slumped on a pile of rubble against a derailed tube carriage, I was finally lifted out by six Metropolitan police officers, through what seemed to be the longest tube station tunnel I’d ever been in! Once on level ground outside the tube station I was further triaged by the ambulance service and treated for my wounds in one of a few field hospital tents, staffed by HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) paramedics and doctors.
The day was only the start of the overall exercise, and focused mainly on mass casualties. Being a part of it was an amazing experience, certainly an opportunity that does not come around often!
Acting as a casualty in a major incident is daunting, scary, frightening, overwhelming, exciting and fascinating all at the same time. I have learnt that verbal commands and communication, both verbal and non-verbal, are extremely important when it comes down to being able to trust your rescuer. I felt very safe in the hands of HART, USAR, London Fire Brigade and the Met Police; all service personnel talked me through every process and procedure they did, keeping me involved in the situation and not isolating me.
As well as Exercise Unified Response, myself and many other students took part in Operation Kingsway at the end of 2015 at North Weald Air Base. This exercise was simulating a multi-vehicle car crash, or Road Traffic Collision (RTC), where we played patients inside an overturned bus. Two helicopters from Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance were in attendance along with specialist teams including HART and Animal Rescue Services. It’s opportunities like these that give students studying at Anglia Ruskin University a chance to stand out from the crowd!