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Tru Vue Blog: Smoke and the water: Salvage and Disaster Recovery Course, Birmingham April 2018

This April Victoria Stevens ACR was fortunate to be able to attend Historic England’s immersive residential three day Salvage and Disaster Recovery course, thanks to a Tru Vue CPD grant.  

The course structure is based around both theoretical lecture sessions on all aspects of disaster response as well as several practical, hands-on training exercises involving highly effective enactments of emergency scenarios. The course is led by a panel of experts from both heritage institutions and the emergency services whose combined experience in this field is comprehensive.  

On the morning of day one, the focus was on effective methods to implement, test and adjust emergency plans. This included understanding the nature of emergency situations such as the specific risks from fire and water and the roles of the fire service in heritage recovery. It was a very useful introduction for participants, with table-top exercises getting us all to start working together in an effective and focused way. The first practical exercise took place in the afternoon, and included effective knot tying, working with ladders and lines to facilitate easier and safer salvage and a very useful walk through a smoke filled building. This contextualised how difficult the work of the emergency services is in heritage disaster situations, and enabled participants to see such events from a very different angle. The day ended with an excellent managing water exercise. This allowed teams to react to a specific emergency scenario – a burst pipe - and enact their immediate response using a variety of available resources, some of which were less than ideal or of limited use.


It was an extremely effective means of practicing what did and didn’t work well and how communication is a key factor in the success of any response situation.  
Overnight we were asked to think about the roles we may like to take in the main practical exercise on day two. As my primary aim for the course was to gain team management experience, I volunteered to be Recovery Team Leader, responsible for triage and first response conservation and preservation measures following salvage. This was a perfect role for the experience I required, involving pressurised and difficult decision making, dealing with large volumes of salvaged material at once and the challenges of keeping communication lines open between a large team spread over a wide area and a number of locations. Following a practical session on how to provide first response treatment for a variety of collection materials and fuelled by lunch the exercise started.  


After an initial period of what felt like complete chaos the team definitely coalesced and together we developed a system that worked sufficiently well to ensure that some order and process was maintained. The key learning points were the need to regularly review how the situation was being managed and adjust the response accordingly. The main practical difficulties were insufficient people initially in triage to process the rapid influx of salvaged items and the need for quick and easy identification and documentation of objects as they were brought into the recovery area. Up to date and well illustrated inventories and clear, well defined and named floor plans should definitely be the top of everyone’s priority list for emergency planning! Appointing room team leaders would have definitely helped too, and methods for more effective means of establishing chains of command is an area that I will look to improve upon in the future.  


The final day provided an excellent learning exercise through a detailed analysis of the disaster response at Clandon Park, following the fire in April 2015. This gave all participants a first-hand view into how this disaster was managed by the people who were actually on site at the time and showed how long it takes not only to implement first response but also the scale and complexity of a major salvage event. Although Clandon was both terrifying and devastating, all participants on the course must have left Birmingham feeling much better equipped to plan for and deal effectively with the risks and the incidents that may occur in their own collections. 


Image Credit: Victoria Stevens


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