By Christopher Tobutt
A huge disaster preparedness exercise, involving 300 military personnel from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Argus and Medway, got underway on Colliers Beach at East End. The idea of the exercise was to simulate a disaster such as a hurricane, only within the overall context of COVID-19 restrictions. The event was attended by His Excellency the Governor, Martyn Roper, and the Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin.
Offshore, in the distance, the huge Argus ship could be seen, while helicopters buzzed overhead, and military personnel set up camp in the cabanas. In the exercise, one of them was an “Operations HQ,” and another one was a medical triage unit, for speedy first-aid for anyone injured.
Lieutenant Mark Freeman of the Royal Navy explained: “Today you are witnessing the HAADR exercise, that is Humanitarian assistance and Disaster Relief. So what we have is a troop of the 24 Royal Commando Engineers being landed ashore and practice putting people ashore and willing to deal with any hurricane or disaster that we might come across, and in the background the Wildcat Helicopter Being flown from RFA Argus.
“Some people from the ship who are going to simulate locals who might be distressed, who might have a variety of different issues such as injury. The commandos are going to move around and see what is required they have got various bits of kit. Their kit can be used to clear areas to help with engineering support but also got things like electric bikes so they can get from place to place quite quickly.”
A group of commandos emerged from the bush carrying a big black nylon casualty bag, with a simulated, badly injured patient inside it, to the Triage cabana. “We’ve got a medic as part of the troop who can do some first aid for any serious casualties we have the ability to do a helicopter lift back to RFA Argos where they have more medical facilities on board so this is practicing how they juggle the different casualties who come in at different times,” Lieutenant Howell explained.
The highlight of the exercise was seeing on of the Wildcat helicopters land on a stretch of beach. Everyone shielded their eyes as the sand was blown all around. The simulated injured person was then airlifted back to the ship.
Hon Premier Alden McLaughlin said: “I think the exercise by the Navy is good for them, but for us I think it will reassure us that we’ve come a long way in the relationship between the UK and the territories in terms of disaster support. Things didn’t go quite so well in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, so this is hugely reassuring to us.
His Excellency the Governor, Martyn Roper said, “That was really impressive. It shows the capacity of the Royal Navy to support us in a Crisis. We’ve spoken a lot about what happened during Ivan and the UK support but I don’t think there can be any doubt today that the UK has stepped up massively in terms of what it makes available to the Overseas Territories.”