Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2007
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For members of the public
who were expecting to see us begin our evidence session this afternoon
with the Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constable of
Gloucestershire, I am sorry to have to tell you that due to problems
in getting here the Chief Constable, as you can see, is not in
attendance, which is very disappointing. He has sent his apologies
to the Committee but I gather that the traffic en route has been
such that he has not been able to find his way from beyond Chiswick;
that is as far as he has got. He was under some pressure to return
for an appointment so I am afraid he has had to send his apologies
and the Committee will do its best to try to find some way of
talking to the police from Gloucester in due course, but they
have actually sent some very helpful information.
I think Mr Drew is volunteering to go personally and interview
the Chief Constable. So we have decided to press the fast forward
button and colleagues from Gloucestershire County Council have
very kindly managed to get themselves here early for which we
are very grateful. Can I formally introduce Mr Duncan Jordan,
the Group Director for the Environment from the County Council.
From Oxfordshirewe are also very grateful to you for coming
earlywe have Mr Richard Dudding, the Director for Environment
and Economy and Mr Dave Etheridge who is the Assistant Chief Fire
Officer for the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. I think you
were to have been joined by your Chief Executive but for some
reason she has not been able to make it here. If we here a story
about a fast car with a chief constable and a chief executive
in it we will know what has happened. Let us begin at the beginning
with the responsibilities of local authorities in dealing with
major events such as flooding. You are Category 1 responders under
the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and that Act is supposed to set
out clear lines of roles and responsibilities for those who are
involved in emergency preparations. I think it would be quite
useful if the two authorities could briefly describe what you
understand your responsibilities are under the different pieces
of legislation. If there is one thing that is quite clear, this
is a complex areaa complex web of responsibilitieswherever
water and flooding matters are concerned and I think for our greater
understanding if you could describe those roles and responsibilities
and refer to the different pieces of legislation that would be
a very good thing. The second thing you might turn your minds
to is giving us some commentary as to how you think the different
agencies with a responsibility to deal with flooding issues actually
cooperated during the summer's incidents. Mr Dudding, you look
very enthusiastic to start so I am going to pick on you and ask
you to start.
Mr Dudding: What I was going to
suggest was that for the issues to do with immediate emergency
and resilience if Dave spoke to those. There are also issues about
responsibility when it comes to alleviating a flooding, making
sure it does not happen so when it gets onto that I would happy
to speak myself. I think on the immediate emergency that is Dave's
Mr Etheridge: As a Category 1
responder under the Civil Contingencies Act the Emergency Planning
side of Oxfordshire County Council has played a very strong hand
in terms of leading through the local resilience forums, working
with district councils in order to ascertain a plan which can
be used and utilised for instances such as flooding. If there
is a need to evacuate an area then there are local plans which
tie in with local district councils which then can tie in with
the county plans in terms of emergency planning. The Fire and
Rescue Service sits within the local resilience forums and has
a part to play in the creation of those plans. We also have training
responsibilities within the Civil Contingencies Act as well to
ensure that we are aware of those plans and are able to discharge
those when we need to. I think it is fair to say that certainly
within the floods in Oxfordshire the local emergency plans that
came up through the districts did tie in very nicely with the
county plans and certainly the fire service, when we were involved
at both the silver and gold levels, at instigating those plans
were very comfortable with the way they were executed within our
A lot has been made of gold and silver commandsgold appears
to be what is described as strategic and silver appears to be
operationalcould you just describe for the Committee what
the difference is between the two?
Mr Etheridge: Certainly. It is
very difficult to actually come up with a set definition of what
gold is and what silver is because it really depends on the incident
that you are dealing with. If you specifically look at the floods
the gold responsibility was very much looking at the forward planning
side of things, making sure that we were able to look at any lessons
learned and start to hand them over to Berkshire as the bore of
water, for example, which went through the county. Gold was very
much looking at instigating very early the Recovery Working Group
side. Silver, which I headed up, was based at the Thames Valley
Police at Abingdon Silver Suite. That was a multi-agency response
which was very much making sure that we could do practical things
there and then to make a difference to the people affected by
the flooding. That does not meant that we did not do things that
were three hours ahead, six hours ahead, nine hours ahead, twelve
hours ahead because every meeting that we had we were looking
at things that would slide into those timescales. Certainly the
areas that gold also looked at were things like, for example,
ensuring that the fire service could call upon the national assets
that had come from the New Dimension programme.
What is the New Dimension programme?
Mr Etheridge: The New Dimension
programme is where the Communities and Local Government actually
purchased some high volume pumps, 44 pumps which are now situated
all over the UK. If Oxfordshire, which actually does house one,
wish to call on additional ones that is done through a national
control centre that is based up in West Yorkshire. Gold's role
within that would be to make contact with those to be able to
draw down those resources and then for me to be able to feed up
from silver a picture of what is going on in the county all the
while, particularly concerning things like infrastructure. I was
able to provide them with information that we did not have any
hospitals taken out, that we were fairly comfortable with our
electrical substations, with our water treatment works; there
were no schools that seemed to be adversely affected; we did not
seem to have any roads that were being washed awaywe had
some that were impassableand I was able to feed that information
up from silver so that the gold could then look at the strategic
long term issue of both the resilience of the county and business
continuity but also early instigation of the Recovery Working
I am not getting any message, Mr Etheridge, from you that there
were any difficulties in the cooperation between all of the different
agencies. Is that a fair assumption?
Mr Etheridge: I have been in the
fire service for 22 years and I can honestly put my hand on my
heart and say that I have never experienced such a one-team approach
to a major incident like we had in Oxfordshire.
Is that because you followed the strictures of the law and the
policy in this area of regularly up-dating your civil contingency
plans in a way that people were used to working together before
the emergency came?
Mr Etheridge: Yes. Certainly within
Thames Valley Police we have had a programme of gold, silver and
bronze level training over the last two to three years and that
paid dividends when it came to the floods. We were aware of what
different agencies could do, but what we also came together as
was as one team, for example, when we were looking at the flooding
footprints within the county we were predicting where the flooding
could be. I would like to pay tribute to Thames Valley Police
because I worked very closely with Thames Valley Police, our fire
fighters and their police constables worked shoulder to shoulder,
pro-actively knocking on doors of houses that we suspected would
be flooded and as a result of that the level of insurance cost,
I would imagine, was significantly reduced by that action.
Where were the problems?
Mr Etheridge: I think the timely
information that could be fed into the silver control room was
an issue. I think the situation concerning the Environment Agency
not monitoring tributaries was a significant factor for us. The
River Thames is monitored but the tributaries were not and because
we had a huge amount of rain that fell over a very large area
the tributaries very quickly burst their banks. What that meant
was that we had lots of localised flooding rather than global
flooding similar to Gloucestershirewe were a very different
incident to Gloucestershirebut we had a lot of localised
flooding where the tributaries burst their banks. Indeed, it was
some 48 to 72 hours later that the River Thames level started
to come up as those tributaries start to feed in. If we could
have had some information concerning the behaviour of the tributaries
and certainly if now, in hindsight, we could have flood plans
and flood footprints associated with how those tributaries behaved,
that would make a significant difference to any future incident.
Mr Dudding, do you want to add anything to that?
Mr Dudding: Just on the cooperation,
I would like to reinforce what David said. We went through three
phases, one was the immediate emergency being coordinated by gold
and silver. Overlapping with that we had a recovery phase when
we were trying to work out how to deal with the clean up, how
to get people who had been evacuated back in their homes. I have
never known so many agencies that might normally have their differences
between them not having them at all. This is also so in what is
known as the third phasewhich for me is the most important
phase which I will come back to later onwhich is longer
term planning to remove the risks or reduce the risks of flooding.
I think there are issues about the nature of the flooding being
very dispersed in Oxfordshire, largely pluvial rather than fluvial.
There are quite big lessons about how we handle that so if you
do want to ask some questions later on I think there are some
big issues about the nature and the way we organise for what we
have discovered is quite a different type of flooding to some
of the classical patterns which we were used to before. I am happy
to come in later on on that.
Mr Jordan: To pick up on a few
extra points from my perspective I also sat on the gold command
myself at Gloucestershire so I had first hand experience of how
that was working. We had the same experience as Oxfordshire, loads
of cooperation, the agencies came together. The thing that held
it together, though, as far I was concernedand I was fairly
new to this areawas the strength of the emergency planning
work that had been done before: the robustness of those plans,
the robustness of the local resilience forum insofar as it had
looked at umpteen scenarios of different risks, different eventualities
and that kept it together. Bearing in mind how many agencies came
into thisI think we had over 35 different agencies around
that gold command tableif that framework had not been so
strong and had not been in place then those who were not used
to working in that way it would have fallen apart, which it clearly
did not. The level of cooperation again was tremendous throughout
the whole system. An area that I would say where we know we need
to improve on is the general one of communication. That was between
different tiers, particularly the county council with the district
councils. Normally in an emergency situation we would have potentially
one district involved and therefore communications are straightforward;
in this scenario we had five districts in Gloucestershire all
affected at the same time. Not only were they all affected at
the same time, but all in different ways. We had things like the
closure of the M5, the M50; we had flash flooding in the Cotswolds;
two days later we were in the situation where we had river flooding
through Tewkesbury and down the Severn. Later on from that we
had major swathes of the area affected by loss of electricity
and then followed up by loss of water.
You said that one of the things that had impressed you was the
robustness of the system and the things you did together. In terms
of what you planned for, had you actually dealt with something
as complex as you have just described to us?
Mr Jordan: That is a really interesting
question because I posed that to our head of emergency planning
and he basically said to me, "If I had put something as complex
as this on the table everybody would have laughed at me and said
that this was not a realistic scenario and therefore we do not
consider this to be a realistic training exercise". It really
was a case of: What is the next problem that we are going to be
facing? And how much wider spread can the issues be that we are
facing at the moment? Our plans were great, the framework stood,
people adapted and responded to what they needed to do. What we
now know is that we can take those plans and we can develop them
further based on our latest experiences, but I think there is
only so much you could realistically plan for.
One final point before I hand over to David Drew, the Government
in March 2005 published its first response to the Making Space
for Water consultation document. Did anything come out of that
exercise which has beneficially or adversely affected what your
two respective local authorities are now doing or did from 2005
onwards to prepare for this type of contingency?
Mr Jordan: I am not familiar with
this document so I cannot comment.
This was a document which was published initially in 2004 under
Taking Forward a New Government Strategy for Flood and Coastal
Erosion Risk Management.
Mr Jordan: I am certainly aware
that we have our major flood emergency plans in place and we would
tie those up with the Environment Agency's local flood warning
Q331 Lynne Jones:
Could I ask you a question we were going to ask the Chief Constable,
which is how satisfied were you with the rainfall forecasting
and flood warnings that you received before the event, the performance
of the Environment Agency? We have had Mr Etheridge commenting
but in a way they had not got that information to pass on. How
satisfied are you that the information that they did have or should
have had was passed on in a timely manner?
Mr Jordan: Certainly the Environment
Agency played a full part in the whole emergency operation for
us. I would not knock the colleagues that work around that table.
I think there is a limitation which comes down to resources and
the level of profiling and forward alert they can give us is only
as good as the sophisticated models that they have available at
their disposal. With what they have I think they did a very good
Q332 Lynne Jones:
What about the Met Office?
Mr Jordan: Again the Environment
Agency, as I understand it, had really good links with the Met
Office and they were given the information they needed.
Q333 Lynne Jones:
The Chief Constable was quite critical about the information.
Mr Jordan: From my experience
at the actual gold session the criticism was about not being able
to give a clear picture, one hundred per cent, what is going to
happen and I have yet to find anyone that can do that with weather.
I think what could have been slightly better was the map modelling.
Q334 Mr Drew:
Moving onto the emergency itself, obviously I have a particular
knowledge about Gloucestershire as Duncan knows and I went to
some of the briefings so I did hear from the Oxfordshire MPs about
what was happening during the actual period of time and obviously
in the immediate post-flooding recovering period. What I would
like to do is look at the four categorisations of organisation
which to me are statutory, military (which obviously were brought
into Gloucestershire; I do not know if you had much military support
in Oxfordshire), private sector and lastly the voluntary sector
(I know in Gloucestershire's case that was invaluable). I just
wonder what your views were very broadlythis is not a detailed
analysison how those four sectors worked during the immediate
emergency and perhaps just shortly afterwards. Perhaps we could
start with Oxfordshire.
Mr Etheridge: Just to go back
to the local resilience forum plans, part of the local resilience
forum plans are to draw upon the third sector/voluntary sector
for incidents like this. That certainly was achieved, particularly
when gold made the call for the county centre to be opened because
the districts could no longer cope with the volume that was coming
through. There is a third voluntary sector element in that which
worked very, very well. What I will say, though, in terms of lessons
learned was that because of the longevity of this particular incident
we need to ensure that there is the sustainability of that third
sector in supporting an incident like this. Certainly from the
fire and rescue service point of view we were able to draw upon
assets from other fire authorities that were dealt with through
that national emergency control centre from West Yorkshire. We
had high volume pumps come to us from London; we had some swift
water rescue teams come to us from Essex and Lincolnshire and
then we worked with some charities such as the RSPCA who also
sent their swift water rescue team to us.
Q335 Mr Gray:
And Wiltshire also, if you do not mind me interrupting. Chippenham
Fire Station too, if I may say so.
Mr Etheridge: Right, thank you.
What I will say is that we were absolutely inundated with offers
of assistance and one thing that we needed to do was to filter
out what we needed. We actually had at one point an offer of hovercrafts
from Italy and, believe it or not, my colleague in Gloucestershire
benefited from them; we turned them down and they went to Gloucestershire.
Whereas we thought initially it might be a wind-up, it actually
turned out to be absolutely factual. To be quite honest with you,
from a military point of view Oxfordshire had a very light touch
with the military. We did not declare a major incident within
Oxfordshire; we did actually contact the military at one point
purely and simply for the provision of sand bags. They assisted
in the sand bag provision; they did not actually assist in any
operations to do with any fire and rescue or water rescue activity.
We had a light touch with the military. That said, we did actually
have two fire stations that flooded, one was in Abingdon and as
a result of that we decamped the fire station to Dalton Barracks
which is also in Abingdon and the military were extremely supportive
and welcoming in that process.
Q336 Mr Drew:
And the private sector? Water, electricity?
Mr Etheridge: Certainly through
the silver control side of things we had regular meetings with
the power companies and with Thames Water. They were able to confirm
for us the positions of all of their substations, pumping stations
et cetera. We were then able to work with the flooding footprint
diagrams that we had to see whether they would be at risk. From
that we came up with some control measures just for one particular
substation in Oxford. Again we had a very different picture compared
to our colleagues in Gloucestershire to do with the utilities
in the private sector.
Mr Dudding, do you want to add anything to that?
Mr Dudding: I would like to say
one thing. It has not come up and I think it is worth reinforcing.
The sheer scale of thisit is a scale for all the agencies
and not a point about any particular agencyraised issues
about one or two organisations at some stage being close to being
overwhelmed. Those who were not close to being overwhelmed nevertheless
had real issues of fatigue. The adrenalin worked very effectively
for a while but I think we all learned some lessons. You need
to rotate staff and that means you need to have enough people
to rotate and it means you need enough people to cross all the
sectors who can rotate as well. There are real lessons for us
in having trained people who you can rotate. I think that arose,
for instance, in the voluntary sector; it certainly arose in our
own staff as well. It works for about 48 hours and it is fine
but after that people start dropping.
Q338 Lynne Jones:
Are there any issues about apportionment of costs when you said
you had help with other organisations?
Mr Etheridge: All of the agencies
that supported us did invoices for their time. Those invoices
then have gone into a cost centre within the county council so
from a fire service point of view we are able to identify the
additional costs of support and for the fire service that sits
at about half a million pounds.
Q339 Lynne Jones:
Did you have to pay for the hovercrafts?
Mr Jordan: Not so far but we are
keeping quiet about that.
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