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Emergency Services Take Part In ‘Biggest’ M62 Exercise

‘Exercise Dark Knight’ was designed to test the knowledge, expertise and efficiency of the different emergency services. 

A road traffic accident can have huge repercussions; not only does it affect those involved in the incident, but also other road users, drivers, passengers, pedestrians and emergency staff who are nearby or get called in to help.

The most dangerous collisions often occur on motorways, as cars typically travel at 70 miles per hour, although many motorists risk their lives and the lives of others by driving over the speed limit.

This is why emergency service teams in the north-west pulled together during August to take part in a large-scale emergency preparation exercise on one of the country’s busiest motorways.

North West Resilience Co-ordinator at Highways England Chris Chadwick, stated: “Our motorways are among the safest in the world, and we help to keep them safe by carefully planning what we’d do on the rare occasions when there’s a major accident.”

‘Exercise Dark Knight’ was designed to test the knowledge, expertise and efficiency of the different departments, including local police, ambulance teams, hospitals, and Highways England’s traffic officers. By re-creating a disastrous road traffic accident, it would challenge the emergency services units in Cheshire and Greater Manchester, and help them find areas they can improve on if or when a similar scenario takes place in real life.

The controlled incident was held on Saturday August 10th, with Highways England taking advantage of the fact the stretch of the M62 near Warrington was already closed due to an upgrade of the motorway, including adding new lanes and SMART technology.

To make the incident as realistic as possible, Highways England contractors continued to work on installing new gantry basis and altering the temporary road layout near junction 10 of the M62 at Eccles Interchange.

Meanwhile, a 57-seater coach was towed on to the motorway between junctions ten and 12 and positioned on the road. A huge mobile crane, operated by workers from Hough Green Garage in Widnes, placed the vehicle on its side, while other cars and motorbikes were positioned around the bus by a car transporter.

More than 50 volunteers took on the role of injured drivers and passengers to make the situation as real as possible, pretending to have been travelling in eight cars, one motorbike and two HGVs when they were involved in an accident with the coach.

These volunteers included 15 members of the St Joseph’s Players amateur dramatic society in Leigh, who not only brought their acting talents to the staged incident but also covered themselves in make-up and body paint to make the wounds look as realistic as possible.

Kath Roberts, who is a member of St Joseph’s Players, commented while they did not perform to an audience “we’ll still need to carry off our parts”.

She went on to say: “I see the consequences of road collisions when I sit as a magistrate so anything we can do to help the emergency services improve their responses to incidents in definitely worthwhile.”

Volunteers from Greater Manchester Fire & Service and Casualties Union also took part in the exercise, putting to test their experience and knowledge to successfully manage the complex and difficult situation.

After firefighters cut free the ‘injured’ volunteers from the damaged vehicles, they were ‘treated’ by paramedics from the North West Ambulance Services, who acted as quickly and efficiently as they would have if it had been a real-life situation.

Mr Chadwick commented: “We’re working closely with the emergency services on the exercise and are grateful to the volunteers who are giving up their time to help make our motorways safer for everyone.”

He added this opportunity is unique, as any similar operation normally has to be carried out away from the motorway to avoid disruption to drivers. However, as the nine-mile stretch along the M62 is already closed to construction work, the project could be conducted on the motorway, making it as close to reality as possible and putting the emergency services teams in the most representative scenarios.

Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Services Operational Training Delivery Manager, Jason Rain said: “This exercise is a good opportunity for our crews to carry our imperative training for a major road traffic collision working collaboratively with partner agencies.”

He went on to say this exercise is one of many for the team, noting: “The fire service carries out a variety of training exercises on a regular basis to ensure that our firefighters have the most up-to-date training and can work efficiently with other emergency services to achieve the best possible results.”

The importance of this particular emergency preparation exercise cannot be underestimated, particularly on this stretch of the motorway that sees so many vehicles and drivers using it every day. Indeed, 120,000 motorists travel on this part of the M62 – situated between the M6 going from north to south and the M60, Manchester’s busy ring road – every day.

Highways England is currently attempting to make the area safer for road users through its latest update, which includes installing new giant overhead gantries, fitting more CCTV masts, introducing lighting columns and adding safety barriers.

Following the staged project, Chris Evans, Station Manager at Chadderton Fire station and also director of Exercise Dark Knight, said it took months of planning to make it a success.

Speaking with Manchester Evening News, he commented: “[It was] designed to ensure that should an incident of this type and scale occur on our motorway network, we can all respond as efficiently and as effectively as possible to provide the public with a first-class service.”

He noted that while the roles of the police, fire and ambulance crews are essential to ensuring any injured parties are taken care of immediately and the area is made safe as quickly as possible, Highway Agency Traffic Officers also play a big part in resolving such a large-scale disaster.

“[They] play a specific role in safely managing an incident, helping to provide the best outcomes for any casualties and also to ensure that the motorway infrastructure re-open as quickly as possible to reduce disruption to other road users,” Mr Evans told the publication.

Training emergency service providers in these scenarios is essential to ensure they have the experience, skills and confidence to act efficiently and calmly in a real-life situation. It also helps improve their communication and co-operation between the various departments and makes them more familiar with the protocol and response procedures.

This could mean the difference between the life and death of many people involved in the accident – in this case, the drivers and passengers involved in a pile-up on one of the country’s busiest motorways.

For further information on keeping your company’s workforce updated on emergency preparedness and response, contact us today. Our planning, consultancy and courses are designed to equip people with the right skills and knowledge to respond quickly and without hesitation in a variety of challenging situations.