Arran Resilience voted UK Resilience Team of the Year 2013
In September 2013, Arran Resilience was named Resilience Team of the Year, at the Emergency Planning Society Awards. Nominated by Al Penman of NHS Ayrshire & Arran Civil Protection, the award recognises the input from all teams and particular team leaders in setting up Arran Resilience – as well as the superb efforts of the emergency teams and the wider Arran community in responding to the snow storm of March 2013.
The following excerpt from the nomination explains more about the reasons for the nomination. We are delighted to have won this award, which simply adds more motivation to take on Resilience ideas and concepts, and we hope to share these ideas with other teams from across the UK.
We are also grateful to the EPS for running the award this year, and for providing us with this opportunity share our experiences.
(with edits since submission)
The island of Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. With an area of 432 square kilometres (167 sq. miles) it is the seventh largest Scottish island and has several mountain peaks – the highest of these hills is Goat Fell at 873.5 metres (2,866 ft.). In the 2001 census it had a resident population of 5,058, many of whom are elderly. During the summer the population of the island can increase to around 25,000 people.
As any island, Arran is vulnerable to the elements, and with severe weather both ferries and helicopters can be stood down. The island can be very isolated and with limited resources they need to maintain their own island resilience.
Arran Resilience was formed in October 2010 by one of the island’s GPs. The aim and function of the group was to bring together the emergency teams based on the island to establish better working relationships, enhance training and planning, therefore nurturing a joined up approach when responding to incidents on the island. The group composes of members from Category 1 responders and the voluntary sector agencies. There are representative from Police Scotland, Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, BASICS GPs, North Ayrshire Council, H< Coastguard, Arran Mountain Rescue Team, First Responders and the RNLI. All membership is on a voluntary basis and they participate in the group over and above their own duties within their own time.
Regular meetings take place to discuss pertinent issues which may affect the day-to-day aspects of Island living. The group produces a valuable team profiles document. This document includes information about the teams, their contact details, mobilisation times, vehicle information casualty care equipment and specialist skills.
Although none of the members have any emergency planning background, they competently organise training events and live play exercises which are held throughout the year. The exercises and training allows the members of the group to enhance skills and improve inter agency working as well as a benefit to their continuous professional development. Over the last couple of years a number of large multi-agency live play exercises have taken place. This has included Exercise Bavaria and Exercise Alliance.
Exercise Bavaria was held in 2012 to test the response to a fire within the National Trust for Scotland premises at Brodick Castle. There were numerous casualties and other developing issues which had to be addressed by all the agencies during the exercise. It was a successful exercise which was praised by the mainland Category 1 Emergency Planning Officers who attended on the day. Exercise Alliance was held in 2011 to test the response to three simultaneous incidents across Arran, including a mountain bike accident, car accident and a boat incident. The incidents totalled 15 casualties, and although individually they are relatively small incidents for the island, three simultaneous incidents of this nature would severely stretch resources. The exercise was very well planned and very successfully ran with communication being the biggest challenge.
Over the night of the 21st into the 22nd March 2013, Arran was hit by an unprecedented snow storm. This resulted in the loss of power to the whole island compounded by the roads on the North, West and South of the island being impassible by snowdrifts up to 15 feet high in places. There were a number of villages being totally isolated, a loss of mobile signal across the island and intermittent ferries due to the weather. The damage to the power infrastructure was unprecedented and nothing like it had been seen for 40 years.
The initial response on the island involved a meeting of the Arran Resilience Group chaired by Dr David Hogg to collate information, assess the impact and discuss the response required. A major incident was subsequently declared and the response was then coordinated locally by Sergeant Dodds. A co-ordination centre was quickly established ease the facilitation of the multiagency emergency response. By this point the Arran Mountain Rescue Team had already been out for over 4 hours searching for gritter and other vehicle drivers, who had been reported as having lost communication contact. By 10pm on the Friday night, a number of cars and their occupants – including young children – had been rescued by the MRT and Police teams, with longstanding Arran responders reporting the conditions as the worst they had witnessed in their lifetimes.
Staff members from the agencies who were isolated within their own villages took it upon themselves to set up teams in those villages, checking on the vulnerable. Eventually once communication links were established they also became the focal point for contact with the coordination centre. To add to this response, arrangements were put in place for teams from the Mountain Rescue, Coastguard and RNLI to check on those isolated and more rural parts of the island as well as take supplies to the identified teams. The following video was taken by a local resident who filmed the extent of the snowfall.
The retained fire crew at the fire station in Lamlash opened up as an emergency feeding station 24 hours a day as the fire station had a backup generator. As SSE began to send generators over by ferry, other centres were strategically identified and opened to provide places of warmth, hot food and information points. The resilience members identified and got the support of the community councils to staff these facilities.
An added complication was that there was a large school party staying at the Outdoor Centre in Lochranza which was also isolated from the rest of the island. Although the outdoor centre had means of cooking they were without heating and during the time one child took ill and required urgent medical attention, with the support of the Coastguard using their VHF radio via their MRCC in Belfast facilitated a BASICS GP to be flown by helicopter to the centre.
As the week progressed and still the North and West of the island remained isolated, without power and with diminishing resources the group coordinated the RNLI lifeboat from Troon to bring emergency supplies of blankets, torches and food deliveries to the North of the island. These were then taken for onward distribution going down from the North across the West of the island by the mountain rescue, coastguard and identified village teams. There were also supplies dropped by the Royal Navy helicopter including a BASICS GP with a Sandpiper bag.
The Local Authority drivers were out with snow ploughs up to 18+ hours a day trying to clear the blocked roads, initially to allow SSE staff to fix some of the power cables and then carry on to access the isolated villages. In some cases the nurses and doctors in the hospital stayed on duty and slept in the hospital, as some staff members were marooned and unable to come to work. The staff marooned provided a very valuable service providing a healthcare service and welfare checks within their area.
Many members of the group were out for up to 18 hours a day and were then returning to their own homes which in cases still had no power. Some members of the teams could not return home as they were stranded on the side of the island least affected by the weather. An example was one responder working for 8 hours as a member of the Coastguard Team and then went to his job in the hospital as a porter and worked another 8 hours, and then found somewhere to sleep as his home was in the North part of the island which was cut off. He got up the next day and reported for duty with the Coastguard.
On Monday 25th March the Scottish Minister for Transport and Veterans Keith Brown MSP visited the island and the Emergency Coordination Centre and praised the team on their outstanding efforts in managing the incident and their response.
Also later this day the roads all around the island were finally passable, all be it by single lane in places. This allowed the power company to reach the previously isolated parts of the island to start to repair the power lines and to position emergency food vans to the villages still without power.
The emergency phase was stood down on Thursday 28th March with the local authority taking over the co-ordination of the recovery phase.
During the six days of the emergency phase, Arran Resilience put the needs of their community before their own individual needs, and coordinated and managed an incident of unprecedented magnitude which was complicated by a lack of communication between the various parts of the island. The agencies involved rallied together and at times came up with novel ways to find resolutions to problems: such as using fire engines which were snowbound in the fire stations to charge up AIRWAVE radios.
The response to the incident was coordinated and led by Arran Resilience team leaders and senior officers who had limited or no emergency planning experience with support from the respective agencies on the mainland. This support included 3 Emergency Planning Officers, 2 from the NHS and 1 from Police Scotland, deploying on the Saturday to assist the group manage the incident and the response. What was immediately apparent was that the familiarity and rapport within the group that had built up since 2010 and that paid dividends as each agency knew who could provide what and what each others’ roles and responsibilities were. Working relationships had already been established by attending meetings and exercises and all agencies regardless of status category 1 or voluntary were treated the same. Their views and opinions were listened to and respected by the other agencies, all were treated fairly and equally which is something that only comes with working and training together.
Once the incident was concluded, the members of the group continued straight back with their day jobs. A debrief has subsequently been held and lessons learned but the one thing that stood out was the remarkable job done by the agencies that make up Arran Resilience during the six days in March when the snow came. Planning is already under way for their next live play exercise for the group and the regular meetings continue to take place again after a busy summer season on the island. The Scottish Government is now looking at the Arran Resilience model and is holding it up as best practice and a model of community resilience especially within the rural and island communities in Scotland.
- BBC News – aerial shots of extent of snowstorm
- STV News – thousands face night without power
- BBC News – damage worse than originally feared
- BBC News – blackout continues for sixth night
- ITV News – snow-stranded students (video recommended)
- ITV News – snow-stranded students (article)
- STV News – more cold nights as generators fail
- Daily Record – stories from the snow storm