When disaster strikes...

Crisis: Exercise Dakota for emergency services training at Washington Hall, Chorley
Crisis: Exercise Dakota for emergency services training at Washington Hall, Chorley

A fire training centre was turned into a disaster zone to test the skills of emergency crews from across the North West and see how they would respond to a terrorist attack.

Agencies from across the region travelled to Washington Hall International Fire Training and Development Centre in Euxton, at the weekend and were met with appeared to be a disaster scene.

The ‘Doomsday’ scenario training exercise set the scene of an aeroplane crash following a hijack attempt in the skies above Lancashire.

The wreckage of an aircraft fuselage – which was reported to be carrying radioactive waste – was embedded in a building and the area was swarming with casualties and walking wounded.

Fires broke out causing extensive damage to properties. There were medical emergencies and a sense of mass panic amongst onlookers.

Named ‘Exercise Dakota’, the details of the exercise had been kept firmly under wraps to ensure the personnel who took part were as unprepared as possible, to evaluate how they responded in a disaster zone. Fire crews from Greater Manchester, Merseyside, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and two private sector services from BAE Systems and Sellafield attended the incident.

The North West Air Ambulance, the Army, police, paramedics, representatives of the Civil Aviation Authority and members of the USAR unit – which stands for Urban Search and Rescue Unit – were also on site to test their communication and response skills in what appeared to be a real-life disaster scene.

Lancashire’s chief fire officer, Peter Holland, said: “Underpinning Fire and Rescue Services’ emergency response resources of personnel, equipment, experience and skills are thorough preparation and planning, including training scenarios that resemble as far as possible the ‘real thing’ to test our resources and our ability to respond effectively in any emergency situation. Though much of our preparation and training is for incidents on a smaller scale, it is necessary from time to time to test our response capability for major incidents and that was the focus for Exercise Dakota, which centred on a large-scale emergency brought about as a result of a terrorist attack.

“By inviting other Fire and Rescue Service teams and the emergency response crews of other agencies and organisations to participate, as would be the case with a real incident of that nature, realism and more importantly the validity of the exercise as a rigorous test of our strategies and resources has been assured.”

For the full picture special, see this week’s Guardian