An Emergency Response Plan in action

We caught up with Community Emergency Volunteer, John Roe, who, as Coordinator during the COVID-19 emergency response, led on the support efforts for the village of Great Barton. Here, he takes us through the details of their Emergency Plan and how he and his team of volunteers put this into action.

Can you tell us about your role in the community?

Normally I take the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan, heading up the Volunteer Team for the village, which is situated near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. When we triggered our plan, in response to COVID-19, I undertook the Coordinators role.

Great Barton is a diverse village with 947 households, spread over a large rural area. Many of our residents are retired and there can be a reluctancy from the community to ask for help, with many opting to put others before their own needs.

In 2003 I was approached to help with the task of creating an emergency plan for the village that would respond to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. There were seven other local volunteers who supported this task. Between us we brought a good level of professional experience with backgrounds in power network distribution and telecommunication resiliency.

As part of the plan, we created an emergency risk assessment, which laid out the vulnerability levels of 50 different types of risk. It included high probability events such as blizzards, hurricanes and radiation, but did not extend to pandemics at this stage.

Can you explain how you have structured your group?

As a large rural village, it is vital that our volunteers are able to reach households easily on foot during an emergency, when there may be a loss of power and/or communication. In response to this, we divided the village into 21 sectors to form a ‘Community Cascade Network.’ Each sector covers a relatively small geographical area with their own Main and Reserve Local Coordinator who look after approximately 50 properties between them. Each sector has a property list with addresses. A telephone/courier fan-out procedure is in place to provide a communication conduit if needed.

Our emergency plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups:

The Great Barton Emergency Plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups

Can you discuss how your group adapted to meet the challenges of COVID-19?

Early online conversations through our village’s Facebook group, (relayed to me by my daughter) highlighted the community’s awareness of what was happening. This really gave me the confidence to trigger our plan on 16th March (with the agreement of the Parish and West Suffolk Councils).

It was obvious that because of social distancing, the Operations Team would have to perform in isolation from one another, directed by the Coordinator. Fortunately, we had already in place a telephone exchange line number, which was diverted to me as the Coordinator, but could be diverted to any member of our Operations Team at any time if needed. Adapting to the demands of COVID-19 was a challenge, but because I have lived in the village for many years and maintained our plan, I had developed a rapport with the community. Alongside my professional experience, I had the confidence I could do it.

A letter was delivered on the 17th March to all households, offering help to people in the community who had lost their support structure, were self-isolating as a result of the virus or were feeling isolated. We decided that our support efforts would be focused on the vulnerable and isolated members of our community, organising prescriptions, food deliveries etc. and we put out a request for additional volunteers to get involved.

It was important that the new volunteers were honest about what they could or could not do in their response effort (for example, if they had reduced capacity due to childcare). We changed our Facebook group from ‘Great Barton Neighbourhood Watch’ to ‘Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers’ and put up a post calling for volunteers. We had 92 new volunteers through this as a result, which was just brilliant. Assigning the volunteer to their local sector meant that they would know the residents and could build on this rapport.

Other efforts included:

Support services of the Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers

What would you say are some of the personal qualities and skills that make an effective group Coordinator?

You have to be a people-person and think of others first; it is important to be mindful of the whole picture. Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard. Other key skills are organisation, the ability to identify priorities as well as delegation.

There were times when my volunteers were understandably apprehensive about the tasks we were carrying out in the community during this challenging time. It was crucial that I reassured them. I did so by relaying key government information, communicating my confidence in them, as well as being clear and decisive in my role as their Coordinator.

Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard.

What has been a key learning experience for you?

If you want help, always go out and ask for it. If you explain clearly what you are asking people to volunteer for and where they fit in, they will support you. Keep in regular contact with them, so they will know they have a valued role to play. We are so lucky to have this in place.

I am very proud of the village for the way it has supported its residents during this extremely difficult time.  

John and The Great Barton Emergency Response Volunteer Team have not had a logged COVID-19 related support request since the 8th June and have been able to take some much-deserved rest.

Volunteer, John Roe, who takes the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan.

Alongside all things community resilience, John enjoys DIY, travel, rambling, bird watching, and photography.

From floods to pandemics: adapting to COVID-19

Andrew Turner is the Emergency Officer for Sixpenny Handley and Pentridge Parish Council in Dorset, whose role until COVID-19 largely covered groundwater flooding. Here, he discusses how he and his team of community volunteers adapted to the impact of COVID-19.

Can you explain some of the steps you took to adapt to COVID-19?

I started to review our Community Emergency Plan in February 2020 as more COVID 19 outbreaks were occurring. At this point, I had planned out the workings of our Flu Friends support group but had no community volunteers. In early March I put posters up around the village with my contact details asking for volunteers. Within a week I had 18 and by the time the lockdown occurred I had over 80. I divided the Parish into areas based on the number of houses and allocated a team to each with a Leader and Deputy. I also established a Phone Buddy team, made up of people in the community with appropriate skills or those who wanted to be involved but couldn’t as they had to self-isolate.

We sent letters to residents, explaining how to order food from our local shops and arranging for prescriptions to be collected. This was issued along with a newsletter explaining what we were doing and helping keep people informed. We’ve kept the newsletters going and each one has had a different angle, including good news stories and reminders about key safety aspects.

Everything we have established through COVID-19 needs to be maintained so that we have a package ready should it be needed again.

How did you find the process of adapting?

It was very quick to get the group up and running because I had done the groundwork with the plan and received a lot of community volunteers willing to support those having to isolate. Our Dorset Councillor was and is very supportive and I have a call each week with the Parish Council to keep them up to date. However, making decisions in the beginning, based on what I felt was the right thing to do, was very difficult; no county wide communication loop had been established and I did feel very isolated as a result.

Within the team I have maintained weekly calls with the Team Leads, Phone Buddies and Reserve volunteers. This ensures we have a chain of command and consistent messaging as well as the ability to feed back. I gather stats from each team every week and collate these to establish how much ‘work’ we are undertaking. Initially, this was to know whether any team was overloaded, and is broken down in terms of shopping, prescriptions and phone calls. As we gathered data, I have been able to build a profile and can now see we have a steady volume of trips and calls that is sustainable within the team.

How did you use social media and other communication tools during the crisis response?

I set up a Facebook page and a group in the NextDoor app to push information out – either updates on our group’s activities or output from the GOV.UK daily update. This information also gets uploaded onto our community website, so those not using Facebook or NextDoor can still access it. I have also set up a free Microsoft Teams area where all our documents are stored.

I used the Communities Prepared website for information and guidance in setting the support team up and continue to check back for other resources to utilise.

Have there been any key learnings from this experience that you’ll take forward?

Everything we have established through COVID-19 needs to be maintained so that we have a package ready should it be needed again. I made use of Communities Prepared training/briefing packs to ensure we were covering the right scope at a realistic level and to inform community volunteers joining the team. Engagement within the community has been key to the success of the plan and so we need to ensure we maintain this going forward. We need to work with Dorset Council to ensure we are better integrated.

Will you maintain engagement with the new volunteers you’ve acquired through the pandemic? If so, how do you see them playing a role in future emergencies?

Yes, when we’re able to meet, I want to workshop the whole experience to gather everyone’s thoughts and ensure we track what we did but also what could have been done better. With this information I will update the Pandemic Flu plan for future use. I also want to keep everyone registered so that I can contact them periodically and look at how we can extend other areas of our overall emergency plan if needed.

What stage is your community at now? Are you looking at crisis recovery?

We are continuing our support model and expect to align this with the overall Government recommendations.

Andrew Turner sitting with his dog

As lockdown restrictions ease, communities will be starting to look at ways to rebuild and strengthen. Our free upcoming webinar takes a practical look at how community volunteer groups & Town & Parish Councils can assist with crisis recovery. Book here.

Celebrating community emergency volunteers

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2020, we chatted to Calum, aged 25, who started volunteering with the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) in February. Paul Robertson, who heads up our training and development for the Communities Prepared programme, is the group’s senior coordinator.

This interview with Calum took place before the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown. The group has since been on duty for over 10 weeks, providing deliveries to the vulnerable and self-isolating in the community around the clock. A further 10 volunteers have joined the team during the pandemic, including many younger members of the community who have been either furloughed, home working, or back from university.

What motivated you to sign up as a community emergency volunteer?

I had always had in mind that I would get involved in volunteering at some point in my life, but I think there’s a danger as a young person with university and employment pressures to think, “I’ll get myself set up first, then I’ll do it.”’ Even though I’m currently in a bit of a transitional phase, I felt that I was perfectly capable of giving up the odd evening and/or weekend to volunteer.

To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and how you support the community?

I was hesitant at first about the idea of a local community support group. To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.

We operate, to a certain degree, as a voluntary extension of a variety of public services, helping with some of the lower level tasks. For example, during the flooding, we helped the Environment Agency monitor water levels as well as the flood barrier. I’ve yet to be involved in such activities but I believed they’ve also supported the NHS in getting doctors to their area of operations during poor weather and helped the local authority transport department. With the group training and equipment we receive, you really get a sense you’re part of a professional outfit.

How do you fit the role in around your professional and social life?

It hasn’t taken up much time so far, but on the occasions that I’ve had a late evening or given up an odd day at the weekend, I just try to remember the many other people across the country who find time to volunteer with far busier schedules than me. 

Do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.

What do you get out of volunteering with the group? Why is it important to you?

For me fundamentally, it comes down to two questions: do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.

How do you see climate change affecting your role as a volunteer moving forwards?

Climate change played a part in my thinking when considering volunteering. I think a lot of people have a sense that we might be in stall for more frequent adverse weather conditions. As such, I think the training around the community response to these situations will get more of an impetus, even though it’s quite developed already for things like flooding and snow conditions. 

What would you say to encourage more young people to get involved in their local community emergency volunteer group?

Once you’ve done the odd thing with a voluntary group, be it an hour a week or a weekend a month, it tends to fit quite comfortably into your day-to-day life. I’d emphasise to younger people to just join the first meeting to find out more information and get an idea of what’s involved. And although this shouldn’t be the principal motivation, most employers love to see voluntary commitments on a CV. 

A note from senior coordinator, Paul, on the impact of COVID-19 on the group and how they’ve adapted during this challenging time:

Despite previously having trained with Wiltshire Council on public health emergencies, nothing prepared us for the intensity of work over the last 2 months. So far we have undertaken over 200 individual tasks from shopping and medication deliveries in partnership with the town’s spontaneous volunteer neighbourhood ‘street champion’ network, as well as putting up information posters around town on behalf of the Town Council and assisting with furniture deliveries for a homeless charity whose client was moving into an unfurnished flat.

Whatever the task, our volunteers have brought a friendly smile and in some cases, home-picked flowers to spread some cheer to those self-isolating.

Calum has fitted right into our COVID-19 response and, after some online training and mentoring, has even undertaken coordinator responsibilities, managing the volunteers as they respond to requests for help across our community.

It has been a privilege to be the senior coordinator for such a committed, cheerful, and eager group of volunteers, who have lost none of their enthusiasm after 10 weeks. They, along with every other volunteer across the country, should feel rightly proud of the important work they have done.

A close-up of two volunteers in front of a car, facing away from the camera. Both volunteers are dressed in high-vis clothing and are carrying boxes.
Photo credit: Lydia Booth Photography
A volunteer helps move a bed onto the back of a 4x4 vehicle. Another volunteer can be seen in the background.
Photo credit: Lydia Booth Photography

Thank you to Calum, the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers, Lydia Booth and to all volunteers across the country for their incredible efforts and dedication to community resilience. Thank you!

My Winter – Community Emergency Volunteer Team Coordinator, Paul Robertson

Ahead of Christmas, Paul Robertson, Senior Coordinator of Bradford on Avon Community Emergency Volunteer Team, Wiltshire, discusses how his team of snow wardens supports the community in winter

Paul Robertson, CEV group coordinator

How we prepare our community for winter

One evening
in autumn we gather the volunteers together to undertake our snow warden refresher
training and review our snow plan. This ensures that any new volunteers are
familiar with what we do as well as reminding existing volunteers of their
previous training and health and safety advice. We also invite other local
agencies to the training session such as the local health centre, police, home
care specialists, pharmacy,
and highways department to ensure we are all linked together.

As part of our snow plan we also have dedicated grit bins that the local highways department fills with salt, so these are checked and, if necessary, new supplies are ordered in the summer.

How I check the forecast

I have several apps on my phone including the Met Office App, What 3 Words and a snow radar which alert me to impending weather warnings and gives the volunteers 2-3 days’ notice of an event. We are lucky to have a snow warden scheme in place, supported by Wiltshire Council which tells us when to deploy. This is based on accurate weather forecasting they receive from the Met Office.

My role in a snow emergency

“When the Beast from the East hit in 2018 we were operational for 3 days with 14 volunteers giving over 140 hours of community service, clearing and gritting 1.5 km of paving.”

My job as the volunteer coordinator during the event is to call out snow clearance and gritting teams to clear strategic footpaths in our town as agreed in our snow plan. At the same time, I coordinate the many calls on our 4×4 vehicle to assist in GP and carer transport, delivery of vital medication and taking local residents to hospital appointments they might not otherwise get to.

When the Beast from the East hit in 2018 we were operational for 3 days with 14 volunteers giving over 140 hours of community service, clearing and gritting 1.5 km of paving, as well as providing transport to a diverse range of essential community services. It validated our commitment to creating a multi-role team after the 2013 floods to ensure our volunteers were able to assist our community in a variety of incidents from flooding and snow to public health and utilities failure. 

Snow wardens clearing the road
Snow wardens

How we implement our snow plan

If we receive a warning for 50 mm or more of snow, we pass on the coordinator’s contact details to the home care specialists, GP surgery and pharmacist and check our 4×4 vehicle to make sure it has good levels of antifreeze, a shovel and plenty of fuel. Our 4×4 truck is fitted with winter tyres and correctly insured. If you are looking to use a 4×4 make sure the vehicle is properly equipped and insured to undertake the roles you are expecting and that the drivers are competent and confident enough to drive in potentially challenging conditions.

My Winter is part of the Met Office’s WeatherReady Winter Campaign, run in partnership with the Cabinet Office to help people prepare for and cope with severe weather. More information can be found at www.metoffice.gov.uk/weatherready.

Recovering from the autumn floods: the power of community spirit

Increasing community resilience to the impact of flooding and severe weather emergencies has never been more pertinent. Across the country, communities have been battling the devastating effects of one of the wettest autumns on record. The Environment Agency has been working tirelessly to safeguard and support affected communities, working alongside members of these communities to promote a joined-up response effort. Chair, Emma Howard Boyd, describes being “hugely moved by the community spirit and generosity” at her recent visit to the South Yorkshire village of Fishlake, writing about her experience on the Environment Agency’s blog.

Community volunteer groups not only play a vital role in preparing for, and responding to emergencies, but are also instrumental in the recovery process, continuing to assist with longer-term clear-up efforts and helping to rebuild morale and restore a sense of normality.

Creating active and empowered communities

Ensuring these groups feel confident in leading their community to recovery is a key focus of Communities Prepared. Our training and resources support Community Emergency Volunteer (CEV) coordinators and their members to plan for and implement longer-term resilience measures.   

Become a member of Communities Prepared today and access our full range of free training resources and tools. It’s free to sign up!

We’ve been busy exhibiting, running workshops and presenting at some great regional and national events. You may have seen us at the following:

  • Somerset Prepared Community Resilience Day
  • Wiltshire Prepared Flood Warden meeting
  • Cornwall Community Flood Forum’s annual conference
  • BCI World Conference & Exhibition with Business in the Community
  • Good Things Foundation: Joining Forces
  • ACRE 2019 Autumn Conference

Are you running or attending an event that you think would tie in with our programme? We’d love to hear about it! Get in touch.

“We’re quite good at writing plans but we’re not so good at what you do afterwards. I think that was particularly helpful – understanding the follow-through needed to make sure people are supported in getting back to a working state as quickly as possible.”

Cllr Helen Deas Williams, Brixton Parish Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Find out how Brixton CERT developed their resilience to flooding. Read their story here.

The power of 3 words

How can three random words be used to support a more efficient multi-agency emergency response? what3words’ Geordie Palmer discusses.

What the flood

The Environment Agency recently launched its winter Flood Action Campaign which focuses on winter preparation and helping people to know what action to take in a flood. 

Coming up

Developing the UK’s Flood Resilience Forum, 5th December 2019, brings together leading voices to discuss key topics relating to flood resilience.

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