Exercise tests plan to help friends and family members

27 April 2016
A three-day exercise staged around a serious multi-vehicle collision has tested how local organisations would help people recover from a major incident.

While some police investigation continued at the simulated collision site near Ringwood Road in West Moors, the focus today (Wednesday 27 April) moved to a Friends & Family Reception Centre set up at Howe Croft Community Centre in Bournemouth.

At this centre, people playing the role of family and friends whose loved ones are missing, injured or killed received support from a range of local agencies and charities. More than 50 people volunteered to play these roles, offering a realistic test of the facilities.

As people arrived, they were checked in by staff from the centre and local residents who volunteer to set it up if it is needed for a major incident. They were then directed to support available from a range of organisations, including:

• Bournemouth Borough Council, who assisted with any social or housing needs, including temporary accommodation for people coming from elsewhere in the country.

• Medical support, including emotional and psychiatric help, from a mixed team involving Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the British Red Cross charity.

•  Refreshments and meals, provided for free by the Rapid Relief Team charity.

Friends and family members were then assisted by police officers, who took information about the loved one they were concerned about. This was cross-referenced with details collected about people who were involved in the collision and with calls received by the police Casualty Bureau. 

If their loved one was safe and well, families and friends were informed where they are and put in touch. If someone was still being treated for injuries, they were directed to the right hospital and reunited as quickly as possible. If someone unknown to police was reported as missing, attempts were made to match their details to any of the collision victims who weren’t yet identified.

In the unfortunate scenario that someone's loved one had died in the scenario, family members were offered immediate specialist support from police Family Liaison Officers, who will guide them through this difficult time. This includes a formal identification process, which is being tested as part of the final exercise day tomorrow (Thursday 28 April).

For the exercise, the volunteers were given briefing cards about their background and the loved one they were looking for. They were not told what the status was of that individual, so that their reactions were more genuine. From the perspective of the personnel from all the organisations involved, the process explained above was played out as accurately as possible, in real time.

Amber Austin, Bournemouth Borough Council’s Deputy Emergency Planning and Business Continuity Manager, who assessed today’s activities, said: “Firstly, I would like to thank all of the volunteers who played a role today. Without them, we simply wouldn’t have been able to run this exercise. 

“This included support from charities such as British Red Cross and Rapid Relief Team who would be involved in a real incident, as well as individuals giving up their time to act as friends or family members. A number of local organisations also allowed their staff to give their time voluntarily, including Liverpool Victoria, Nationwide, South West Trains and Bournemouth University.

“Overall, this was a really useful exercise to test plans that, fortunately, we have never needed to put into place in response to a real incident. Colleagues from the organisations involved noted how realistic the day felt and were particularly impressed with the number of volunteers involved and how convincingly they acted out their roles.

“We have already identified some improvements we would put into place in the future, which was only possible by running this exercise in real time. This includes practical considerations, such as using different coloured tabards for different organisations, ensuring friends and family are aware how long the process will sometimes take, and providing them with more regular updates about what responders are doing away from the Centre.”

Detective Inspector Mark Samuel, who leads Dorset Police's approach to victim recovery and identification, added: "Following the test of our response at the incident scene yesterday, and the immediate support offered to casualties involved in the collision, we moved into testing how we help people start to recover from an incident today.

"While it is essential for the police to collect information in a thorough and efficient fashion, so that we can identify the people involved and reunite them as quickly as possible, we always remember that this will be a particularly difficult time for the friends and family members who come to a Reception Centre. Therefore, it is essential that this isn’t just seen as a police responsibility. 

“Today’s activities have shown the valuable roles played by our colleagues in local councils and the health sector. The professionalism shown by those working in a voluntary capacity – whether individuals giving up their time or charities who work with us – was also critical to making sure people were cared for.

"I commend all those people who gave up their time to help us experience such a realistic exercise.”

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