Ready to act if disaster strikes Kent
RAIL crashes, terrorist attacks, major outbreaks of disease and natural disasters – all nightmare possibilities most of us would rather not think about.
And until recently, few would have considered the possibility of an earthquake hitting Kent.
But for Deputy Chief Constable Allyn Thomas, expecting the unexpected is part of the job.
As the officer with responsibility for emergency planning, it is up to him to make sure the county can cope when faced with disaster.
He is part of the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF), set up after September 11 to make sure all the blue light services and other agencies, such as the Health Protection Agency, Environment Agency and local authorities would be ready to deal with a major incident, including anything from bad weather to a terrorist bomb.
“It’s about planning for a whole range of things,” said Mr Thomas.
“Operation Stack, bird flu, storms – anything that could seriously impact on the normal operation of the county and the country.”
Avian flu was a worry over the winter. There are fears that the virus could change into one which could be passed between humans rather than birds.
According to the World Health Organisation, such a pandemic could affect up to 30 per cent of staff in essential services, severely affect businesses, hit power, transportation and communications and caused millions of deaths worldwide.
Members of the KRF are working on the assumption that such an outbreak is inevitable.
“The guidance from the Depart- ment of Health indicates it’s more a question of when than if,” said Mr Thomas.
The KRF regularly practises for major incidents, often based on real-life incidents, including the July 7 bombings.
The planners think about when to close schools and entertainment venues, how to cope with large numbers of wounded or dead, mass immunisation, assessing economic damage of an incident, and the need to investigate the aftermath of a terrorist attack as a crime.
The KRF also plans for environmental accidents – a tanker running aground on the Kent coast, a fire on the scale of Buncefield, an accident in the Channel Tunnel… the list goes on.
“What would we do if there was a flood?” said Mr Thomas. “Or if there was damage to the road infrastructure?
“Suppose there was a rail crash and it affects the rail network? How would we manage the effects on the supermarket network? Those are all the kind of events we plan for.”
It’s not all about disaster – the KRF is also involved in making preparations for this summer’s Tour de France, because of the disruption caused by shutting down major routes and the influx of people expected.
People can help by being prepared. Mr Thomas said: “It makes sense for the residents of the county to prepare themselves, whether it be for a storm, Stack or other disaster.
“It’s about stockpiling a small amount of things – candles, torches, batteries, dried foods, water.
“Whether it be a possible flu epidemic, adverse weather, floods, freezes, storms, problems on the motorway – all of those can disrupt the ordinary running of the county.
“No one can do it on their own; no one agency is big enough to deal with these issues
“The KRF is here, planning so we can keep people safe if anything happens.
“But we are keen for the public to do some planning. They can help protect themselves.”
Deputy Chief Constable Allyn Thomas
Emergency planners must be prepared for anything - including an earthquake