Are Our 999 Services Prepared For Major Disaster?

Belfast’s contingency plans for a major emergency have come under scrutiny during a simulated explosion at a major oil depot.

Over 20 agencies, including the PSNI, Fire and Rescue Service, Heath Service and the NIO, were all assessed during a special exercise day on how they would react in an emergency situation similar to the explosion at Buncefield, England, in December 2005.

The spectacular fire at Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal – known as Buncefield Depot – was Europe’s biggest peacetime blaze. Over 40 people were injured and several neighbouring properties were damaged.

Belfast’s one-day exercise – Connect 3 – was designed by the PSNI and Belfast City Council to assist planners in testing and improving communications and co-ordination when managing major emergencies.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said the exercise was extremely beneficial to ensure all the key agencies are prepared to deal with a major incident.

“The exercise was part of an ongoing multi-agency approach to dealing with major emergencies in Belfast. The scenario was an explosion at a major oil depot in Belfast, similar to the explosion at Buncefield in England in December 2005.

“It was invaluable in giving all the agencies involved the opportunity to test their own response, as well as test the multi-agency approach. Everyone will be able to learn from the experience.”

The exercise took place in a facility which has the capacity to host 300 office positions to enable organisations to function normally in an emergency.

It comes on the back of a study highlighting that, although 90% of organisations in the north and south of Ireland have some form of risk management plan in place, up to a third of organisations in some sectors fail tests for emergency plans.