Exercise Shannon – see the video and read our report!

Published:  09 August, 2012

Exercise Shannon was a major UK multiagency exercise that took place in the south coast home of multiple top tier COMAH sites on 4-5 May. Jose sanchez de Muniain reports.

Joint training exercises that pull together all three emergency services – fire, law enforcement, and medical response – as well as private response organisations and specialist agencies arguably occur less often than the major incidents they are trying to prepare against.

And joint training exercises that in addition to these agencies also involve participation from fire departments elsewhere in the country are an even rarer species.

One such exercise took place in May in Fawley, Hampshire (UK), at an industrial site that sits under Control of Major Accident Regulations – the national implementation of the European Union’s SEVESO II Directive. The site houses the UK’s largest oil refinery, owned by Esso, as well as a chemical facility operated by Exxon Mobil and Nalco.

The perfect place to simulate a large-scale incident.

You can see the video here:


Exercise Shannon – the players

The two-day exercise involved a wide range of actors, including an ambulance Hazardous Response Team (a specialist team that has been trained to provide life-saving medical care in hostile environments); Roads Policing Units; Police Hazmat Personnel; and the Environment Agency. The main industrial partners were Exxon Mobil, FloGas, Nalco, and Calor Gas. In terms of fire personnel, as well as Hampshire Fire and Rescue fire officers, there were teams from the Isle of Wight, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and Berkshire.

Station Manager Mick Thompson set the scene. “We simulated a failure of the pump that supplies fire water and process cooling water to multiple top and lower tier COMAH sites in the area.

“The objective was to lay hose lines to two different points, taking water from a fresh water lake containing over 3 million litres of water.”

The temporary fresh water main was used to address three separate incidents in different areas in and around the Fawley refinery site. Two incidents within the COMAH sites, and one incident outside the perimeter which involved an LPG leak and explosion resulting in an overturned tanker and three casualties (one supplied by Amputees in Action) on Cadland Road.

In order to be able to supply water to these incidents, along a total of around 5km, Hampshire Fire and Rescue had to mobilise high volume pumps from other brigades. This was done by invoking the Fire and Rescue Services National Control Centre, which then subsequently contacted a number of brigades from around the UK for mobilisation on a national scale of the required number of additional HVPs – in this case five units.

Early on the day of the exercise the five HVP units initially mustered at Hampshire headquarters in Eastleigh, and were then escorted in two VIP convoys by Hampshire Constabulary to a spacious forward strategic holding area next to the refinery. Silver command was set up in the nearby Hardley Fire Station, comprising all the senior fire officers and managers. The scene was set.

Testing communications

An important aim of Shannon was to test interagency communications with digital TETRA radios using the UK’s “Airwave” network – a dedicated private network for mission critical communications.

The Airwave network – amongst other things – enables emergency services to talk with each other via “talk groups”. This feature (in practice) is rarely employed even though this interoperability capability was a key reason for the implementation of Airwave in the UK a number of years ago.

Watch Commander at Hardley Station Chas McGill commented: “This was a real opportunity to call the other brigades and test the Airwave radio comms with Hampshire Police, who conducted themselves as if it was a real incident. Interoperability is an issue that continues to be problematic as shown in previous multiagency exercises. We wanted to make it work.”

Fire officers taking part in the convoy of HVPs were guided into the scene by VIP convoy officers using the police hailing channel, and upon arrival were advised by Hampshire FRS to move to emergency interoperable channel (ES3) for the duration of the live exercise.

Roads Policing officer and Hazmat Advisor Mike Batten played a key role in the exercise planning. He had previously been involved in four hazmat exercises in the Southampton area, including a scenario involving a container leaking phosphorus on a Ro-Ro ship. “Our past exercises have proved what we already knew – currently if the police lose contact with the firefighter on the ground then there is no way of renewing contact: as soon as a firefighter goes into the hot zone that’s it.” He further explained: “Prior to the exercise I arranged and delivered an Airwave training package for the HFRS personnel who would be involved. The emphasis was to ensure that the attending Police Officers would have continuous direct communication with their HFRS counterparts. This included training the use of the point-to-point facility. In another first for both services, HFRS staff were given personal issue Hants Police Airwave sets after they had been trained. Although there are differences on the HFRS and Police handsets with the available talk groups (TGs), this was overcome by targeting  the training at the use of the interoperability TGs only. We wanted to ensure that everyone involved was confident in the use of the Airwave sets and to avoid unnecessary confusion on the day.”

Mike Batten also explained that although communications had been major part of Exercise Shannon, there were further training criteria being met by the project. “It also gave the Hazmat Advisors the opportunity to work with their counterparts in fire and HART (hazardous area response team). It exposed Roads Policing officers to hazmat incidents at an RTI (road traffic incident), and they saw Hazmat Advisors at work facilitating communication between the different services using Airwave. The exercise was planned from the outset to be part of an ongoing program to integrate the working practices and command and control of all three 999 services. I am very pleased that we have been able to build on the previous work and pull together many threads that up to now hadn’t been brought together before.”


Testing partnerships

Chas McGill believes that – for some of the visiting fire officers – Shannon has been a real eye opener in terms of how closely Hampshire FRS works with its police counterparts. “There are tremendous operational benefits to be gained in organising a joint exercise like this – on several levels – not least of which is gaining an understanding of the differences between the two emergency services, fire and police”

Mike Batten agrees. “In the police we don’t have the same number of resources to throw at a large incident which may involve 40-60 fire officers with corresponding support. What you tend to see is a police officer wearing two or three different hats, and sometimes there is a lack of understanding that someone like a Divisional Officer in the fire service could be talking to a Police Constable, who may not have the corresponding rank but does however have the corresponding responsibility. We don’t have the resources staff-wise to bring to an incident so sometimes you might find you can’t have the chain of command you might wish for, and a Divisional Officer, Station Manager and Incident Commander may all be dealing with the same Police Officer, whose job might also involve logistics, evacuation and keeping an incident log.”

And while the fire service may be primarily focussed on a particular incident, law enforcement’s scope of responsibilities can be wider. “It could be dealing with the dislocation of the transport infrastructure, carrying out evacuation, and housing those people, as well as marshalling the fire service’s resources.”

Exercise Shannon, believes Mike, proved that there are outstanding benefits to building trust and relationships between police and fire. “When we go to an incident we could now be in a position where we know all the people there: so automatically there are no barriers and it means if a fire officer asked me to do something, I would not question it because I trust their judgement and I know that they would not ask for something that was superfluous. If you have a good working relationship with a partner service it improves everything. The key for me is, know how your partner agencies operate, and know what they are likely to want to achieve. And then you can help and facilitate them achieving that.”

This open approach has been working well with Fawley Refinery, and Hampshire FRS now has an open invitation to go into the refinery and test their foam and monitors. “In fact we are using the refinery for CAFS training, as well as some development work with their big six-guns monitor. We want to see if we could inject foam solution into the HVP hose line, rather than at the six-gun end,” said Chas.

It is also worth pointing out that Exercise Shannon also provided the industrial partner companies to test their own emergency response procedures, which encompassed both the on-site response by the in-house emergency team but also testing its emergency response recall facilities, which brought into the refinery the appropriate senior managers from their weekend breaks, said Chas. “Once recalled the terminal manager briefed our crews when they initially turned up, as well as activated their internal alerting systems so that the tankers that were on the road on their way back to Fawley were aware what was happening. Part of their contingency procedure is to park these tankers at a nearby industrial site, and the police were ready to help them. Failing that, the backed up tankers could have shut off the A326 bypass, but it all worked very well and we’ve had positive feedback.”

Terry Smith, Chief Fire Officer for Exxon Mobil’s Fawley Refinery, commented that he has carried out a number of exercises together with Hampshire FRS and the teamwork aspect has been excellent. “Earlier in the year in January another exercise had simulated a tank fire and two HVPs were brought in to supply water to Exxon Mobil’s equipment. And that was a follow-up to another exercise in 2007/8.

“For us the most important aspect is people working together and understanding the particular dangers inside a petrochem site. Of course, it is also important to ensure our equipment is compatible with Hampshire’s – and it is. We’ve had six-inch hose here longer than Hampshire, and it is a great tool because you can lay it as a temporary fire main system.”


Outcomes and learning points

As regards water, Shannon proved that an external supply could be brought into any point of the COMAH sites using the HVPs – should there be a catastrophic incident in the future. All resources were satisfactorily coordinated via the National Coordination Centre, in partnership with the police. 12-bar of pressure was easily achieved at the refinery incident, which necessitated approx 3km of hose and a relay using HVPs from Hampshire FRS and Isle of Wight FRS. “We used a monitor to prove the supply – it was fed by the HVP manifold which went into one of our fire pumps to control it. We had bags of capacity with a single HVP line,” said Chas McGill.

Oxfordshire FRS looked after the incident at the bulk terminal, at the opposite end of the refinery incident. This was helped with HVP relays from Surrey FRS, Dorset FRS and Royal Berkshire FRS. “They had over-capacity with a single line. One of my objectives with the HVPs was to see what kind of capacity we could get with a single line.

“We could have gotten away without using the Berkshire HVP, but had we wanted to twin the lines, we would have required it to boost the capacity. Also, we have to bear in mind that if something breaks down you are better off having it, and we will put that in our operations plan for the future.”


The future

There are some tentative movements towards holding another ambitious multiagency exercise in March 2013.

Nothing is yet set in stone, but there is already interest from other fire brigades in the UK, and the scenario that Hampshire FRS and Hampshire Police have in mind is – yet again – firmly rooted in practicality and realistic risk. If all goes to plan, the next exercise could be held in Southampton Airport, which as well as storing significant quantities of aviation fuel is located next to the M27 motorway. Indeed, in May 1993 a Cessna plane overran the runway and after crashing through the perimeter fence collided with two cars, catching fire. Chas and Mike don’t want to reveal all the details of the scenario yet, but they do point out there is a railway line also next to the airport, which opens up the possibility for some hazmat training too. In true form, the two organisations are already talking to partner agencies British Transport Police, Southampton Airport Fire and Rescue Service, and others.

Watch this space.

  • Operation Florian

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