Mark Reynolds – Daily Express September 10, 2010
POLICE have been sent on a training course to prepare for a massive earthquake, it emerged last night.
The three-day exercise, involving hundreds of staff from four forces, cost almost £1million.
Yet over the past 1,036 years since records began in 974 only 11 people are known to have been killed by earthquakes in Britain. And the last one of any size was nearly 80 years ago.
Officers from Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Merseyside took part in the bizarre exercise this week to plan for a tremor measuring 8 on the Richter scale. Mock disaster scenes included burning cars and collapsed buildings and more than 600 actors and amputees were employed to pose as injured victims.
The biggest quake ever to hit the UK – at Dogger Bank in 1931 – measured just 6.1 and caused only one fatality, a woman in Hull who had a heart attack.
Nevertheless, top brass felt it necessary to be prepared for an event on a par with the Haiti quake in January this year, which killed more than 230,000.
Critics last night said police should be using their scarce resources to fight crime, not dealing with imaginary and unlikely scenarios. A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Taxpayers would question whether this exercise is good value for money.
“They want their police officers to be well trained, but this is clearly taking those officers away from their duties for an event which is unlikely ever to happen in Britain.
“At a time when the police are facing massive budget cuts they need to use the resources they have wisely.” Sergeant Colin White, a crime scene manager with Hampshire Constabulary, worked on disaster victim identification at Fort Widley, near Portsmouth.
He told Police Review magazine that Exercise Orion, which also involved emergency workers from Denmark, Germany, Norway, Italy and Spain, was a unique test and very realistic.
“We have amputees playing roles, there were people screaming and buckets of dust being thrown and there were many bodies lying at different angles.
“There are around 400 officers trained in disaster victim identification and they visited Widley over the course of three days.” Other mock quake scenes involved fire fighters, ambulance crews and helicopters.
In Merseyside the exercise involved creating a street with burning buildings, trapped victims and 40 smashed cars.
Pete Crook, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said it was deliberately organised to challenge teams to the limit.
“That is why we have chosen the unlikely scenario of an earthquake, because the UK is not accustomed to such incidents and it is outside all normal planning assumptions.” But some officers were not impressed.
One senior policeman, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s all very well preparing for a giant earthquake, but you might as well plan for a meteor strike or a volcano. Both are about as likely to happen in the UK as an earthquake.
"It just seems like a lot of manpower being used to deal with something which is extremely unlikely.”
A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said last night the exercise had provided an invaluable opportunity to receive specialist training, particularly in identifying bodies.
Last updated 13/09/2010