Emergency Teams gather for Ironbridge Gorge ‘disaster’

Emergency services raced to the Ironbridge Gorge this weekend amid reports of a devastating “landslide”. A huge emergency exercise, two years in the planning, was played out at the beauty spot.

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Visitors to the gorge looked on as several training scenarios were played out using live “casualties” who were in fact volunteers from the fire service and RAF reservists.

Exercise Simul lasted nine hours, with those taking part including the emergency services and local authorities.

A host of volunteer search and rescue teams and the Red Cross were also involved as well as community champions who live in the Gorge, specially trained to act if a landslide was to take place. With the Ironbridge Gorge sitting on unstable land, Telford & Wrekin Council said that a landslide was one of the biggest risks it faces within the authority’s area.

During the day the gorge looked like the set from a disaster movie with a car falling into a “sinkhole”, casualties trapped in a tunnel and “victims” falling into the River Severn.

Council chiefs and emergency services staged a series of training scenarios designed to prepare for the worst.

They included rescuing people from a car that had fallen down a sink hole, trying to locate missing people with drones and dogs, and rescuing people from the river.

The day was hailed as a success by organisers, who described the event as a “great opportunity” to prepare for worst case emergency scenarios.

A landslide is a very real worry for council chiefs, who have spent millions tackling land instability in the Gorge since 2001.

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Exercise Simul took two years to plan and was taking place at the request of Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin County Volunteers Emergency Committee.

The committee’s members wanted to understand how they would link into the command and control structures of the emergency services in the event of an emergency across Shropshire.

The exercise took place between 8am and 5pm, and involved a range of voluntary organisations carrying out live rescues in several specific areas of the Ironbridge Gorge, using casualties provided by 605 Auxiliary Squadron and Shropshire Fire and Rescue.

The day started with briefings for the voluntary organisations at Telford Central Fire Station at Stafford Park.

The respective organisations then mobilised their equipment to the scene of mock disasters in the Ironbridge Gorge.

Heather Gumsley, civil resilience manager for Telford & Wrekin Council, said: “We know the Gorge is still moving and forming and there are landslides that do happen.

“We plan for the worse case scenarios so we are fully prepared and that is what we have done today.

“In West Mercia a landslide in the Gorge is one of the biggest risks we plan for and therefore it is good to do live action practice cases.

“This is a result of two years of work. Ironbridge has everything needed to practice a number of scenarios including steep areas, a woodland and the river.

“It has given us a great opportunity.

“We have used about 10 to 15 casualties and we have had about 70 to 80 people working on the exercises.

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“We have also done an initiative with the fire and rescue service that residents in the Gorge are community champions. We help train residents to know what to do if there is a landslide in the area.

“It has been a good success. We hope these incidents are rare but we need to plan for them just in case.”

Voluntary organisations involved in the exercise included Severn Area Rescue Association, Raynet, National Search and Rescue Dog Association, Midland Cave Rescue Organisation, British Red Cross and West Mercia Search and Rescue.

Warwickshire & West Mercia Police, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, West Midlands Ambulance Service, Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council were all represented too.

Locations in the Ironbridge Gorge used in the exercise included Benthall Edge, Lincoln Hill, the Tar Tunnel and the River Severn itself between Ironbridge Rowing Club and the Half Moon pub.

Councillor Richard Overton, Telford & Wrekin Council’s cabinet lead for land stability in the Gorge, said: “The scenario that Exercise Simul used was based around a collapse in the Ironbridge Gorge resulting in a number of missing people and other live casualties requiring assistance.

“This would result in a major incident being declared and it is highly likely that support would be requested from Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin County Volunteers Emergency Committee.

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“It is that element of a response to such a catastrophe that the exercise aimed to test. It is important that all aspects of an emergency response are tested in a live environment so we have confidence that everyone required knows what their role is should the worst ever happen.”

Karen Calder, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for health and well-being, said: “Emergency planning exercises are vital to ensure we are properly prepared when responding to an emergency incident.”