Somerset hosts first emergency spontaneous volunteers exercise in the UK

Somerset will next month become the first area in the country to host a large scale practice exercise to coordinate spontaneous volunteers who may wish to help during an emergency.

Somerset County Council and its partners are coordinating the exercise on Tuesday 4 October which will involve over 100 people (acting as spontaneous volunteers) responding to a ‘fictional’ flooding incident.

Somerset developed guidance on how to coordinate spontaneous volunteers following the major flooding in the county in 2014. This guidance is being tested in the exercise next week – the first of its kind in the UK.

The exercise will inform national policy and the Cabinet Office, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will be looking to learn from the Somerset experience.

Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member responsible for emergency planning, Cllr David Hall, said: “During the flooding in 2014 we saw communities pull together and volunteers turn up from all over the country to offer their services and support to help those affected. We learnt a lot from our experiences and this exercise aims to put our learning in to practice and test our guidance on how to safely coordinate spontaneous volunteers and to make best use of this resource at a time of emergency.”

On the day of the exercise the coordination team, based in Bridgwater, will give fictional but plausible jobs to volunteers to complete and respond to events unfolding throughout the day.

The areas involved in the exercise include Aller, Moorland, Fordgate and West Yeo, Dunster and Roadwater. Residents in these areas may see groups of volunteers in their neighbourhood during the day.

Volunteers will be practicing sandbag filling, building sandbag walls, as well as humanitarian tasks like door knocking and delivering flood packs.

All of the sandbags filled will be stored locally and available to use in the event of a real flooding emergency. Many of the areas involved are also taking the opportunity to test their local flood plans as part of the exercise.

After the exercise the day will be evaluated and the council and partner organisations will consider if improvements need to be made to the guidance before it is finalised.