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Out of the Box scenario training Part II 

Further to his previous blog entry on a series of training exercises in the Netherlands, Christo Motz presents part II of his three-part blog.

On October 15, between 19:45 to 22;00hrs, we held the second scenario training at the Hoge Bergsche Bos. For days on end the Netherlands had been plagued by heavy rainfall and large areas in the Provinces of South Holland and Zeeland had to deal with serious waterlogging. It only just stopped raining before the exercise, making the scenario training a little easier to execute.

In close co-operation with, among others, OVD Hans Vroegindeweij and the firefighter instructor Albert Bloem, we set up the exercise in the afternoon. The past few days both men were deployed on the island of Goeree Overflakkee and saw the effects of heavy rainfall and flooding on the population, as well as for the emergency services. Farmers immediately utilised their tractors and pumps. Together with the water board, the department of public works and the fire department, pumping of the flooded areas began.

Owing to a lightning strike, one of the main transmission towers on the island broke down and the C2000 communication system for emergency services - as well as the services for a number of cell phone providers - became unavailable on large parts of the island. It soon became apparent that a number of emergency services were not working together; it was unclear who was in charge, and this in a case where there was not even a real emergency situation.

In the disaster scenario, the Netherlands is being battered by a severe western storm for 48 hours, causing a number of the dikes and dunes in the Provinces of Zeeland and Holland to be breached. This led to a breakdown in critical infrastructure and leaving local firefighting units to cope on their own.

To prepare for the exercise, we placed two modified car wrecks on scene. A large container was brought in from Stellendam and a heavy fire truck with a crane/halyard (Kilo Romeo) was placed on site using a crane.

Four seasoned firefighters were briefed on their role as patients; they were to pretend they were heavily wounded and incapacitated.

Meanwhile cameraman Jasper Masthoff recorded our actions to edit into short film clips of the scenario training.

After the briefing at the Slotlaan Fire Station by the cluster commander Ilka Schot and commanding officer Hans Sevenstern, the teams climbed their vehicles and hit the road.

I reviewed the safety procedures and instructions one last time with the men on the outdoor valley parking area. In their turnout gear (firefighting suits) and minimal other means, they would be required to execute their assignments.

Under the command of three self-appointed, temporary 'commanders' the troops divided into three teams and set off on foot to search for victims of a car crash in the polder. After about a five-minute walk they observed a number of burning objects and discovered a vehicle upside down in a ditch, with two victims still inside.

It was interesting to observe who co-ordinated, who undertook which actions, who assumed the lead and how order was created from chaos.

As co-ordinators of this exercise, we adhered to a strict time schedule, slowly increasing the pressure, forcing everyone to become more active and strengthening the learning process.

After the two victims were freed ('scoop and run') they were transported on improvised stretchers.

Working under the darkening evening sky, inadequate supplies of flashlights, radio transceivers and other standard equipment increased the stress placed upon participants, who could assume nothing. With caution, they manoeuvred across the terrain. Luckily the moon broke through now and again, giving some light.

About a 100 metres further on, the teams unexpectedly stumbled onto another crashed vehicle by the side of the road, with yet another victim inside. This meant the firefighters had to revise their original plan to accommodate the changing circumstances quickly. The terrain was thoroughly searched and the fourth victim was found unconscious in the field.

After the patients were stabilised using the Catastrophic Bleeding, Airway, Breathing, Circulation and Disability (CABCD) protocol, they were transported to the embarkation site from where they were transported with Canadian canoes to the assembly point for the wounded.

Many lessons were learned during this exercise. Self-organisation, pro-activeness, individual responsibility, structure and co-operation are crucial to attain a clear plan of attack in confusing and disorienting circumstances and to be able to execute set tasks within predetermined conditions. In particular, the training of personnel in complex unknown scenarios will strengthen individual self-reliance, as well as strengthening the resilience of the teams. This age of global crisis requires other approaches in training, teaching and preparation.
In November the third training session, entitled 'No box at all' took place. In this, firefighters were, again, confronted with the absence of structure and overview.

Christo Motz is a Member of CRJ's Editorial Advisory Panel and an International Consultant on Survival and Resilience in the Netherlands. 

Christo Motz, 16/12/2013
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