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20 January 2009
Cavern 'disaster' in Britain

One of the most famous Stone Age monuments in Britain was transformed into a disaster zone as 100 emergency services personnel took part in a major cave collapse exercise. Police, firefighters and Devon Cave Rescue Organisation volunteers had to 'rescue' 14 people including the dead, injured and walking wounded in a staged underground catastrophe at Kents Cavern.
     Code-named Exercise Bedrock, the mock-up was carried out to test the contingency plans of the emergency services in case of a major incident at underground locations across Devon and Cornwall. Students from Duchy College, Cornwall, who are studying rescue and emergency management, were drafted in to play the parts of the accident victims. The Buckfastleigh-based Devon Cave Rescue Organisation also played an instrumental part. About 14 volunteers, all of whom have expert caving knowledge and gave up their daily work to be there, were involved and were led by rescue controller Jon Whiteley.
     The caves are Britain's oldest scheduled ancient monument, with English Heritage designation dating back to 1957. The simulation was overseen by Sgt Mike Rose, based at police headquarters in Middlemoor, Exeter. He said: "This is the first major underground exercise we have put on and it has gone very well. We are used to working with all of our partner agencies but not in an underground situation. We have identified areas where we could formalise arrangements and will be taking away a lot of what we have learned today."
     The exercise was carried out within the Show Cave area during the tourist attraction's annual two-week closure. Kents Cavern owner Nick Powe said: "The health and safety of our staff and visitors is our number one priority, so when I was offered the chance of hosting such a large scale exercise at the cavern I didn't hesitate."
Source: Herald Express (14 January 2009)

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