When severe weather strikes, the vital services that we tend to take for granted become much harder to provide, and this is especially true when it comes to the more vulnerable members of our communities.
Without support, there is every possibility that those services might not be able to continue; whether that is meals-on-wheels providing someone’s one hot meal of the day, which is especially important in cold weather, or care visits to ensure people are receiving their vital medication or personal care.
This is where 4×4 Response can help, and since 2008 Northants 4×4 Response’s volunteers have been working to support the emergency and essential services to help maintain vital services. Not just getting people out in to local communities, but also ensuring that key members of staff are able to get to their place of work, whether they are surgeons, anaesthetists, control room staff or front-line responders, such as ambulance crews.
Northants 4×4 Response is one of thirty groups that form 4×4 Response UK, with a combined strength of around 1800 volunteers across the UK and Isle of Man, who donate their time and the use of their own vehicles to support the emergency and essential services.
In winter 2017, when we were visited by “the beast from the east”, there were numerous pieces in the media with pleas for help from people with four-wheel drive vehicles, and of course people stepped forward to help. But in terms of risk assessment, how do you ensure that the members of the public who volunteer in these situations are fit and proper, their vehicles are suitable and they have the necessary skills to drive safely in treacherous conditions?
Having the vehicle is one thing, but knowing how to drive it safely in snow and ice, or through standing water, is quite another. 4×4 Response’s responders are experienced at driving in difficult conditions, and know that even four-wheel drives are not immune to the laws of physics: ice is still slippery no matter what you are driving, and flood water presents its own dangers and difficulties.
By having access to known, trained and competent volunteers, organisations are able to ensure that their most important services can be maintained and personnel are still able to get to where they are required regardless of the prevailing conditions.
Trust and cooperation is vital, and within Northamptonshire the voluntary sector and blue-light services work together, having regular exercises to understand each other’s capabilities and resources, learning how each other operates to provide an effective response when required.
2018’s Exercise Brewer tested new inter-agency teams that can be deployed on the ground in 4×4 Response’s vehicles to provide first-hand reports direct to emergency planners on how a large-scale situation is developing. For example, a team including a flood warden, a water-rescuer and a first-aider can be sent to provide real-time information on water levels and properties at risk, as well as being able to assess whether any given reception centre location is likely to be at risk itself to help in the decision making process.
There is also the reassurance effect on local communities knowing that there are people on the ground, checking local conditions, liaising with the emergency planners and able to provide a degree of first-response should anything untoward be encountered.
Severe weather is an increasingly regular occurrence, and 4×4 Response groups have been involved in supporting many of the large-scale flood incidents in recent years including on the Somerset Levels as well as in the Cumbria and Lothian areas. More recently 4×4 Response has been called upon during 2018’s summer fires on Saddleworth Moor to transport equipment, personnel and welfare supplies.
One of the biggest challenges of major incidents is where the deployment lasts for an extended period putting a strain on everyone involved, as normal day-to-day activities still need to be maintained in addition to addressing the situation at hand. Additional help and logistic support from professional volunteers can help to free-up valuable resources needed elsewhere for day-to-day operations.
And as with other services, for unusually large or protracted deployments, 4×4 Response groups are able to call upon mutual support from neighbouring teams. In one deployment on the Isle of Wight, colleagues on the island were able to call in over 100 additional volunteers from the mainland to provide additional resources at short notice.
Details of 4×4 Response UK’s groups around the UK can be found on its web site: www.4x4response.uk
In the event of a call-out, responders are generally available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and your local group will be able to advise on how to make use of its services.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2018 edition of REDistribute, the bi-annual magazine of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.