Massive USAR Drill Simulates Earthquake Damage Throughout UK

Exercise Orion 2010 took place during September at various locations across England. It was centered on an earthquake scenario which was designed to simulate an event that has a very low likelihood in the United Kingdom (UK) and therefore is outside all...


Exercise Orion 2010 took place during September at various locations across England. It was centered on an earthquake scenario which was designed to simulate an event that has a very low likelihood in the United Kingdom (UK) and therefore is outside all normal planning assumptions. The exercise concept is that this is "training for reality" and not a showcase. The UK has a highly developed, well coordinated and practiced response to resolving incidents. This exercise provided another avenue to share experiences with all participants.

Urban search and rescue (USAR) teams from the UK were joined by teams from the European Union and a team from the United Arab Emirates during this exercise.

The main field exercises were held on two sites outside of Portsmouth, England. Fort Widley was home to the primary field exercise activities. This Napoleonic-era facility is regularly used by members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) USAR. Multiple scenario locations were created for this exercise. To prepare for this massive event members of the Hampshire FRS/USAR team spent over four months developing the site by both constructing new challenges and updating and modifying existing locations within the complex.

In addition to the Fort Widley site they utilized an adjacent facility nearby. This location consisted of a multi-story building currently under demolition. This challenged not only the rescue specialist working on the ground, but the logistics components of the teams were also put to the test by having multiple locations to support during the exercise.

The exercise started with a simulated earthquake which triggered the response of over 20 units from the Hampshire FRS. These companies were met by exercise staff members and role players in a manner that mirrored a Hollywood production. The level of realism created by the Hampshire FRS staff immediately challenged the first responders and set the stage for the following three days of activity.

The first challenge faced was the "Widley Cliff Apartments," consisting of exterior and interior challenges. The "North Block" rubble pile had numerous casualties including, uninjured hurt but dazed and injured surface casualties, lightly trapped, heavily trapped and deeply hidden victims. The many passageways in the fort provided means to create safe havens and access points for victims to be placed inside of the "collapsed structure" and for exercise staff to constantly monitor the operations of the rescue teams and the safety of all exercise participants.

Many of the rescuers skills were challenged by the exercise development team. Rope access was needed to climb down to damaged roof structures then vertical rope access down to internal apartments areas. The pancake collapse required breaching and breaking skills along with shoring and monitoring to create safe havens for rescue operations.

The next area that rescuers came upon was known as "Widley Gorge Bridge East" and "West." The collapsed bridge offered a variety of challenges. A van pulling a camper was overturned with the camper hanging over the edge of the embankment. (All designed with hidden safety cables to provide for staff and rescuer safety during the exercise). Cars were scattered about on the bridge surface all with simulated victims playing their roles to the fullest, which taxed the most seasoned responder. Located below the bridge was a section of engineered concrete slabs representing the collapsed road surface. This component covered four trapped vehicles and tons of rubble, all designed with access for victims and exercise staff via passageways from the interior of the fort. The rescue teams objectives included: breaching the road surface, tunneling to the victims, and then assessing the victim's condition prior to packaging them for removal.

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