Exercise Orion, Europe's largest civil resilience exercise has ended. The event ran for three days at Fort Widley on Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth, during which more than 800 crew and support staff simulated the devastating and chaotic results of a mid-sized earthquake striking the UK.
The scenario was selected due to the unlikelihood of its ever occurring in this country, meaning it would test responders in areas that they are not regularly trained to deal with. Such a situation would also necessitate foreign assistance, activating the European Civil Protection Mechanism. The event was designed to look at how international teams would work together to overcome obvious barriers such as language and different working practices.
Local agencies taking part included Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Hampshire Constabulary, South Central Ambulance, Fareham Borough Council and the Environment Agency. Travelling from further afield were urban search and rescue specialists from Kent, Lincolnshire, West Sussex, Lancashire, Mid and West Wales, Grampian and Hertfordshire fire and rescue services. International teams came from Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates. The exercise was overseen by assessors from the USA, and at least one representative from nearly every other European Union nation.
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 due 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. It was hosted by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.