A major incident exercise was held in south Wales mid-April with the aim of raising awareness of the risks surrounding water, especially during periods of flooding, and how to stay safe in and around water.
Several members of Welsh Ambulance Service staff were involved, in particular many members of Hazardous Area Response Team (HART), working in partnership with 15 emergency services and organisations including – South Wales Police, South Wales Fire & Rescue Services (SWFRS), Mid and West Wales Fire & Rescue Services, RSPCA, RNLI, Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Natural Resources Wales.
The key messages from the exercise were:
· Respect the water – whatever your activity and your ability, the water can always catch you out as it’s easy to underestimate its power
· Stay safe by spotting the dangers, you may swim well in a warm indoor swimming pool but that does not mean you will able to swim in the cold water of seas, rivers or reservoirs
· Don’t ignore safety advice, special flags and notices are there to warn you of any dangers. Know what each sign means and what they’re telling you to do
· Never swim alone as if you get into danger in open water, there’s someone who can get help. Children should always be accompanied by an adult
· Know what to do in an emergency – if you see someone in difficulty, tell somebody, preferably a lifeguard if there is one nearby or ring 999 and ask for the Fire and Rescue Service or Coastguard
The dangers of water:
It is very cold and could cause ‘cold water shock’ or hypothermia
· There may be hidden currents which could make it difficult to swim back to shore
· It can be difficult to get out (e.g. steep slimy banks)
· It can be deeper than it looks and can be difficult to estimate the water’s depth
· In a river there may be hidden rubbish, e.g. shopping trolleys, broken glass
· If swimming in rivers or reservoirs there will be no lifeguards around to help
· The water may be polluted and could cause illness
The various scenarios proved challenging for all services, with the HART members playing a major part in each incident:
· River Ogmore – rescue following a collapsed bridge
· River Usk – rescue of horse and rider
· Cosmeston Lakes – rescue from partly submerged caravan
· Cardiff International White Water centre – rescue from partly submerged car & rescue from partly submerged house
· Cardiff Bay, River Taff & River Ely – rescue from floodwater
Cardiff School of Journalism provided students to act as mock journalists, and mock press conferences were held at the Silver Command in SWFRS HQ, Pontyclun. This proved a learning opportunity for those Commanders within Silver on managing expectations and information required to keep the public up to date.
Specialist Operations Manager Ben Collins said: “Exercise Polygon proved to be a challenging yet realistic couple of days, which has helped to reaffirm our specialist capability within WAST and assess how we might be able to improve our resilience in the face of a flooding event in Wales.
“The exercise brought together all emergency services and voluntary organisations, to assess risk and rescue people affected by the flooding, whilst preparing to deal with the post-incident recovery processes.
“I’m extremely proud of Welsh Ambulance Service Command and HART teams who were involved in the response. It was an excellent test of multi-agency collaborative working which also identified the benefits of providing ‘inner-cordon’ clinical care to patients.”