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...


The UK utilized a system similar to the incident command system used in the United States. Their system is designed to manage incidents involving a large number of agencies that need to cooperate and support each other. Having a defined system ensures that all agencies understand their roles and responsibilities in the combined response.

Within this framework, the management of the emergency response and recovery effort is undertaken at one or more of three ascending levels which are defined by the differing functions rather than by specific rank, grade or status:

  • Bronze -Operational Level - the level at which the management of immediate "hands-on" work is carried out. "
  • Silver - Tactical level - the purpose of the silver level is to ensure that the actions taken by bronze are coordinated, coherent and integrated in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Usually comprised of the most senior officers of each agency committed within the area of operations and will assume tactical command of the event or situation.
  • Gold - Strategic Level - also known as the Strategic Coordination Group (SCG). This level is established during events that have an especially significant impact or substantial resource implications, involving a large number of organizations or last for an extended duration. The SCG is to take overall responsibility for the multi-agency management of the emergency and to establish the policy and strategic framework within which silver will work.

All three levels of command were established for this exercise. At each level challenges were placed on the exercise participant and the decisions made were constantly being evaluated by the exercise staff. Assistant Chief Fire Officer Roy Harold summed up this process by stating "a drill only serves its purpose if you can learn from it. And to learn from it, you need to evaluate." Using this mindset at all levels of command provides a realistic view of just where your capabilities stand and where you need and/or want to be.

The exercise closed with the same intensity that it had begun with. A simulated aftershock was staged to signify the end of the exercise. Even as the event closed participants were faced with one last challenge, bringing four days of activity to completion.

Participants, evaluators and staff all left the exercise site with many memories of challenges faced and overcome. Exercise Orion 2010 will be remembers as a great success and as an event that lived up to its vision of "training for reality".

BOB DUEMMEL, a Firehouse.com and Firehouse Magazine Contributing Editor, is the host of "The Buzz on Technical Rescue" on Firehouse Podcasts. He is captain of the Special Operations Unit of the Rochester, NY, Fire Department and serves as the Plans Manager for NY TF-2. He is a member of the NYS USAR IST in the Operations Section and a member of the New York State Technical Rescue curriculum development team. He has delivered training to fire service, industrial, military and international rescue teams and has assisted with exercise evaluation for the United Kingdom and the European Union's USAR program. View all of Bob's articles and podcasts here. He can be reached via e-mail at bob.duemmel@firehouse.com.