Operation Red Kite

Thursday, 19 November, 2009

East of England Ambulance Service operational staff, managers, tactical advisors and press officers attended an aircraft disaster emergency planning exercise, code-named Red Kite, at London Luton Airport on Wednesday, November 4.

Red Kite was part of a re-licensing exercise for the airport and an opportunity for the emergency services to practice disaster planning, which they are required to do under the Civil Contingencies Act. It was also a chance for Bedfordshire police to test the new emergency reception centre procedures. This included setting up an evacuation centre for the surviving passengers, a friend and family centre for those worried or coming to meet passengers from the plane, and a reunion centre bringing passengers and their loved ones together.

Played out in real time the scenario featured a fictional airline from Croatia crash landing by the side of the runway and bursting into flames. Officers from across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire joined fire and ambulance crews in trying to bring the 79 passengers and six crew members to safety, who were played by Thompson airline staff and other volunteers. For the purpose of the exercise, there were nine 'fake' fatalities.

Senior officers set up a gold and silver command centre at the airport to organise the police response to the situation and worked alongside the airport and emergency services. Assistant general manager for the South Bedfordshire locality, Graeme Tolliday said: "The exercise was a good opportunity to test our robust plans for dealing with a major incident. I was very pleased with the way the officers, operational and support staff dealt effectively with the situation and worked with the other emergency services. I would like to thank everyone for the professionalism they demonstrated on the night and the way they all made every effort to learn from the experience.

"We also tested out the new silver command centre the airport has set up. Along with the emergency reception centre procedures they both highlighted a few operational areas which we will all look to improve, so if a major incident was to ever occur at the airport, we could deal with it even more effectively. But these issues are only ever highlighted once they are tested in a real life scenario, such as Red Kite."

Media officers also took part in the exercise and were interviewed by dozens of journalism students from the University of Bedfordshire and Heart Radio station about the incident. They drafted statements, placed information on a holding web page the students had access to and set up a press conference for Chief Supt Street, Glyn Jones the Chief Executive of London Luton Airport, Chris Ball of Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service and our trusts Communications Manager Gary Sanderson, to answer questions from the journalists.

Bedfordshire police media manager Jo Hobbs said: "While we regularly work with all the agencies involved it is great to be able to test ourselves and see how we all react to a bit of pressure. The police always lead on the communications of a major incident and I was delighted with how well the team responded. The experience of the Media Office team certainly showed."

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