Some things are missing even from OS maps

(and Google Earth too).

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The Bedfordshire Local Emergency Volunteers Committee (part of the Local Resilience Forum) was alerted to an incident developing on the boarder between Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the evening of 5th June. The situation was that an unauthorised reservoir on farmland and had been allowed to become far too full and the dam was showing evidence of failure. The situation was deemed potentially very serious as in the event of failure the opinion was that up to 100 properties would be significantly affected with the potential for water to cause collapse of structures and loss of life. Due to the very serious nature of the potential threat, a Strategic Control Group (SCG) was also established, chaired by a senior police officer from Cambridge. This is the first incident in that commander’s memory that has resulted in the need for an SCG – an indication as to the risk to life that was identified.

The at risk reservoir and surrounding land 

Unfortunately, due to the recent developments in the area, neither the reservoir nor a new housing estate that was identified to be at greatest risk were on the Ordinance Survey maps or Google Earth. Acting as Gold commander for the Tactical Coordinating Group Graham Mountford (the Deputy Chief Pilot for Eastern Area) was able to offer to activate a Sky Watch crew to take up to date photographs of the whole area and the reservoir to allow better situation analysis. Police, Fire and rescue and environment agency all welcomed the offer, especially as access to the site was considered difficult. An Eastern Area crew were able to get airborne at 9am on the 6th June (Pilot Graham Mountford, Observer Neil McAllister, flying Cessna210 from Turweston) and took still and video footage.

They were able to use Whats App to pass messages and photos live from the air to the TCG meeting that was sitting at the time, and were able to receive live requests to photograph new areas considered to be at risk following further analysis. In addition they photographed sites identified as evacuation centres and the routes to them from the affected area. The crew identifed that one of the previously planned evacuation centres was on the other side of the potentially flood area from the properties to be evacuated with no suitable route. Should evacuation have been necessary, this problem would have added greatly to the risks to the safe management of the incident.

Proximity to water treatment plant

At risk housing development

After landing the high resolution images were shared with the Cat 1 responders and provided essential up to date intelligence to help manage the water draining and the potential evacuation. Fortunately the multi agency response team were able to reinforce the dam and drain sufficient water to reduce the risk and no evacuation was needed. All the agencies involved were grateful for the contribution from Sky Watch, which was identified as significant in informing plans for access of pumps to the reservoir and establishment of safe routes and areas for evacuation.

Sky Watch’s contribution has since been acknowledged by the Cambridgeshire Chief Fire Officer and hopefully will serve to highlight our capabilities to assist the Local Emergency Services in the future.

(Update- Since this operation Cambs FRS has asked for assistance to obtain images ofteh re-development of the A14 to aid their emergency planning. Please see the E&W news pages for more details.)

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