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Keswick volunteers take to the streets for emergency exercise

Diane Cannon, Roy Ellis, Jean Airey in Control room

On Saturday 5 October Volunteers, Statutory Agencies and residents had a chance to practice their response to a flooding emergency in the town. Around 80 people were involved with the exercise, which saw the town council chamber utilised as a control room and St Herbert’s school as a reception centre for evacuees.

The emergency exercise was based on a flooding scenario with a build up of bad weather and river levels that led to an evacuation call and opening of the reception centre. It was organised by Heather Askew, Project Manager for Keswick Community Emergency Recovery Partnership with the primary aim of giving their volunteers experience of a flood situation. A similar exercise was held in 2017.

Volunteers at initial briefing

This year the exercise was expanded to work with more of the statutory and emergency services, particularly Allerdale Borough Council who ran the reception centre at St Herbert’s School. In the Control Room the volunteers were joined by representatives from Cumbria County Council, Environment Agency, Fire and Rescue, Mountain Rescue and the Police.

The volunteers have a formal structure in place with a core team in place to run the control room at work with the emergency services. For the exercise the team was Diane Cannon as lead volunteer, Roy Ellis as Volunteer Co-ordinator, Sally Lansbury at Radio Operator and Jean Airey as Administrator, with extra support from Fiona Cox. The team then directed the other volunteers, giving them tasks such as warning and informing households of the flooding risk and closing off Fitz Park entrances. As this was an exercise, it gave the volunteers the opportunity to talk to residents and encourage them to practice putting up their own flood defences and to think about what they would need to do in the event of a flood.

Volunteers were able to take a break during the day at Crosthwaite Parish Rooms where Keswick WI were on hand with refreshments.

Evacuees at the Reception Centre

At the reception centre at St Herbert’s School around 25 people acted as evacuees to test the staff from Allerdale Borough Council. Allerdale staff were joined by colleagues from Carlisle City Council as part of their training for emergencies. Many of the evacuees had thought about possible problems that could occur like bringing pets, illness and lost children. The staff worked with the police to find solutions to these problems.

Heather Askew, Project Manager said “Saturday was a great test of our plans and most importantly it allowed our volunteers the chance to meet and work with our partners in the statutory and emergency services, it really helps to have built relationships in advance of an emergency event. This exercise was particularly interesting because we invited other emergency response groups in Cumbria to join us and we were observed by a research team from Nottingham Trent University.

Keswick is often held up as a good example of how an organised community response to emergencies can be hugely beneficial, both within Cumbria and nationally. It’s something we’re very proud of and we are always happy to share our experience and learn from other groups as well. Representatives from Ulverston, Cockermouth, Appleby and Kendal joined us for the day.”

Dr Rowena Hill and Dr Sally Andrews from Nottingham Trent University are working on a research project with the Cumbria Local Resilience Forum to look at the ways in which different agencies work together to provide a co-ordinated response to major disasters. They have been observing various exercises run by the statutory services, but this is the first time they have been to a community led exercise. The purpose of the research is to be able to provide guidance on disaster management processes and make them more effective.

Keswick Community Emergency Recovery Partnership, or KCERP for short, is a partnership organisation made up of local voluntary groups and the local statutory agencies and emergency services.  By working in partnership with the emergency services the volunteers can support and supplement their work, helping to warn a greater number of residents.  Volunteers came out to help in both 2009 and 2015 floods. This exercise was the culmination of a four year training programme funded by Cumbria Community Foundation. The funding has allowed KCERP to offer annual volunteer training, bi-annual emergency exercises and annual updates and improvements to the community emergency plan.

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