Animal disease, pandemic flu and flooding are just some of the biggest risks the East Sussex Resilience and Emergencies Partnership plan for. Amy Hutson talks to Yvonne Riedel-Brown, who is part of the team at East Sussex County Council about how they plan for the unexpected.

A man armed with explosives on the rampage at Eastbourne District General Hospital was used as the basis for a live mock exercise in emergency response.

Over 700 people from the emergency services, local authorities, health services, army, voluntary sector and volunteer ‘evacuees’ helped to test the emergency response plans.

Testing emergency response plans

“While we plan for all the major risks in Sussex, something that can look good on paper can be quite different when we try it out. Some things at the exercise worked really well, other things didn’t and we wouldn’t want to wait for an incident to happen to test things out” Yvonne says.

While the immediate response to a major incident is carried out by the emergency and health services, local authorities provide a major support role. And in the recent exercise, the local authorities supported the planning and running of the exercise, evacuated 100 volunteers and set up a rest centre for them.

Emergency plans are typically tested at least once every three years or when a new plan is created.
As a result of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, it became a legal requirement for emergency responders including local authorities to plan for emergencies, and so the Sussex Resilience Forum was set up. It is a non-statutory, multi-agency organisation with the aim to make Sussex a safer place, and its members include the emergency services, National Health Service Trusts, East and West Sussex County Authorities, Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority, each of the constituent districts and boroughs of Sussex, and government agencies and departments such as the Environment Agency, with support from the voluntary sector.

The Sussex Resilience Forum Risk group meets around three times a year to check their list of top risks is still accurate and anything at medium risk or above is planned for. While the types of risk rarely change, new risks emerge such as ebola which is planned for in a similar way to pandemic flu. And unlike planning for a flu pandemic which is likely to be a ‘slow burn’ event with a longer lead time, transport accidents can happen at any time. This means the team also work on a rota outside of normal office hours, so that one of them is always on duty for emergency services to call if they need help to provide support to the community.

So do the emergencies planned for ever happen?

“When I joined the team in 2009, there was a pandemic flu and we helped to distribute personal protective equipment, such as face masks to colleagues and private care organisations. Our authority has a number of people who go out into the community to help, so it was important that they protected themselves.

“And recently there was a lot of flooding, so we set up two rest centres in Eastbourne and Seaford.

“Luckily the emergencies happen less often than you think, but it’s important to plan for them,” Yvonne added.