This winter’s floods have shown how the emergency services can be stretched by events and the value of community help to address difficult situations. In Devon we have support in place to help communities prepare to deal with emergencies, be they weather related or some other incident. The local Resilience Board brings together the emergency services, Environment Agency, local government and other key organisations to advise communities that wish to develop a local emergency plan and put together an emergency response team.
About a hundred towns and parishes have a plan in place which, besides guiding local efforts, is added to a database as a resource for the ‘blue light’ and support services responding to an emergency.
Devon Communities Together provides a guidance pack and template to help draw up a local plan. We have been to many parish council meetings to explain the process and we run workshops to help parishes put their plan together. Twice a year the Resilience Forum brings together those who have plans, are in the process or want to know more, to listen to speakers on topics of interest, get involved in practical exercises and to share ideas.
A local response team brings together people who are prepared to get involved by taking action to avert a problem, such as closing flood gates, clearing obstructions, pre-salting and gritting. When something happens they have a ‘first on the scene’ plan to help the community and can then offer support to the emergency services. They also play a big part in helping the community recover from an event. They are people with enthusiasm, skills and ‘attitude’!
Last winter Whiddon Down village hall opened up to provide a shelter for motorists trapped by snow on the A30. We encourage village halls, local schools, churches, club houses to get involved, planning how they might operate as a refuge for those displaced by an incident.
A local emergency plan will also promote a ‘household / personal plan’ that encourages people to plan for an emergency, how they would safeguard their home, respond to being isolated in their home or having to leave in a hurry. This is a good way of introducing people to their community plan and can bring forward volunteers for the response team.
There are grants available to help with the preparation of a plan, to equip local response teams and to undertake minor works to reduce risks.
Finally, a note of caution: This isn’t a one-off exercise; a plan needs to be kept up-to-date, practised and reviewed. The response team needs to meet at least a couple of times a year and an annual review of the plan should be a standing item on the Council agenda. Out of date information can cause confusion and has the potential to add to danger.
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