St John Ambulance have taken part in Europe’s largest disaster training exercise involving hundreds of workers from numerous emergency services, including the London Ambulance Service (LAS) and the London Fire Brigade.

Exercise Unified Response, which began on Monday 29 February and lasts four days, involves over 1,000 volunteer ‘victims’ that are part of the drill based around a simulation of a tower block collapsing on to a London tube station.

Four separate venues in London as well as a disused power station in Dartford, Kent, are being used for the exercise.

The purpose of the operation is to test the co-ordinated response of more than 70 agencies in the event of a major disaster involving a high number of casualties.

Scene of carnage created

To create the most realistic environment possible, a destroyed tube station has been created, with platforms, carriages, rubble, as well as fake dead bodies and volunteer ‘casualties’ with life-like injuries, such as burns and severed limbs.

Alongside emergency services, local councils, utility companies, disaster victim identification and specialist search and rescue teams are also taking part, as are disaster victim identification teams from partner European countries.

While not directly participating in providing responders to the exercise, St John Ambulance has been supporting London Ambulance Service with a small logistics team, equipment vehicles and a communications unit.

Paul Woodrow, Director of Operations for LAS, said: ‘By testing our responses to an incident like this we’ll increase our preparedness for any major incident that affects London. It is also a great opportunity to test how we work with emergency services and all other partners across London.’

Voluntary sector gold commander

With such a large scale drill taking place, the London Voluntary Sector Panel has for the first time tested a gold commander representing the whole voluntary sector in the event of a major disaster.

The gold–silver–bronze command structure is used by emergency services in the UK to establish a hierarchical framework for the command and control of major incidents and disasters – gold being strategic level command.

Katherine Eaton, St John Ambulance London Region Events & Logistics Manager, said: 'The exercise provides a good platform for testing the idea of having a gold commander coordinating all voluntary organisations if such a disaster were to occur.

‘We are excited to participate in this exercise and we are using the opportunity this week to explore the idea and see what we can achieve.'

Exercise Unified Response

Scenes at Exercise Unified Response

Exercise Unified Response