Veteran officer’s job is to anticipate big disasters

Swindon Advertiser: Bob Young with operations room supervisor Michelle Dyer at Devizes Police HQ Bob Young with operations room supervisor Michelle Dyer at Devizes Police HQ

BOB Young spends his days preparing for disaster.

No, he’s not a survivalist Ray Mears type, nor is he a conspiracy theorist hedging his bets on the next event to herald the end of the world.

He is in fact Wiltshire Police’s major incident planning manager, and he is very much grounded in reality.

From plane crashes and terrorist threats to flooding and pandemic flu, Bob must concern himself with the greatest risks to the public on a daily basis and should such circumstances arise he provides support and advice to those on the front line.

In Wiltshire there have been very few of what are termed ‘major incidents’ – the last event declared as such was the widespread flooding of 2007.

Prevention measures for the floods that ravaged homes from Haydon Wick to Covingham and Dorcan have just been completed some six years later.

But nature remains perhaps the biggest threat, Bob admits.

“We can’t stop the weather,” Bob, a police officer-turned-staff of 38 years standing, said.

“The floods caused widespread and considerable damage and we are always keeping an eye on weather patterns.

“One of things that came out of 2007 was that we are now linked into the Met Office and get notice of potential events days in advance.

“It’s a fine balance between making people aware and prompting overreactions but we are in a much better position now than we were in 2007.”

Of course Wiltshire Police do not exist alone in combating these threats – the health services, fire service and local authorities all play a part in the ‘partnership working’, today’s top public sector buzzwords.

An example of such joined up working is the Local Resilience Forum, a body comprised of the aforementioned agencies, which is designed to identify risks and plan for them.

They have also developed a risk register to log the current and most likely risks locally – at the top for 2012 was pandemic flu, as opposed to seasonal flu, and flooding.

This register is regularly assessed but both remain constant threats.

And Bob explains that resilience – the ability to do the force’s day-to-day job over and above dealing with the major incident – is a fundamental part of his job.

He said: “Major incidents need a large number of staff and clearly that has an impact on the day-to-day so my job is also about ensuring continuity.”

The need to maintain law and order when it all seems to be falling apart can be vitally important and Bob refers to certain real-life examples.

Natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina, which hit southern America in 2005, saw breakdowns in society, while pandemic flu can cause widespread public panic.

“What if you lose 50 per cent of your staff? You could start to see the break down in law and order,” Bob said.

“If you look at Haiti or Katrina there were significant problems and society started to break down. Likewise with Avian flu although thankfully the impact of that was not as severe as first feared.

“That’s why we work with our partners and put these plans in place.”

While the UK is not as prone to such violent tropical weather patterns – there is evidence of the importance of Bob’s job. Only this month fierce storms saw deaths in the north of England and Scotland and photos of people being escorted out of their flooded homes in a dinghy.

The LRF has run several exercises to test these best-laid plans, including the recent operation Red Kite, which simulated a plane crash over Boscombe Down and involved some 240 people in a table-top scenario.

But with ongoing public service cuts there is a real question about the continuing ability of the sector to deal with such instances and Bob also suggests that it pays for members of the public to be prepared also.

The LRF’s website offers guidance for people in the town – www.wiltshireandswindonprepared.org.uk contains alerts and the all- important risk register.

As Bob said: “It’s about empowering people to help themselves as much as they can.”

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