Pic (left to right) - SFRS Group Manager Fraser Nixon, SFRS retained crew members from Drumnadrochit Mark McFarlane and Katrina Taylor Local Senior Officer for Highland Scott Hay, Police Scotland Chief Superintendent Julian Innes, Leader of the Highland Council councillor Margaret Davidson and SFRS Station Manager Alex McKinley
A new agreement has been reached to use Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) stations across the Highlands and Islands as Communication Hubs during emergencies.
Fire stations across Highland, Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles will allow multi-agency partners to set-up bases for the community and responders in these areas, particularly during power and communication outages.
The Highlands and Islands area has faced a number of communications and power outages over past years, generally associated with high impact weather, but also through technical faults.
In response to these various episodes, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and other responders have been asked to open local stations to provide vital “on the ground” links.
SFRS’s Local Senior Officer for Highland Scott Hay said: “We are delighted to be able to utilise our fire stations in this way and to provide a vital link with our communities during emergency situations.
“We have had discussions with partners such as SSEPD (Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution) and feedback from the Highlands and Islands Local Resilience Partnership Telecommunications Workshop and it was agreed there was scope to make positive use of fire stations and build that into response plans.
The agreement will operate in the Highlands and Islands, under the H&I Response Plan, and provide the option to activate appropriate fire stations within affected communities.
LSO Hay added: “There are 92 Fire Stations of various sizes and capability within the Highland and island areas.
“All but one of these is crewed by retained fire fighters. These fire fighters not only respond in each of our communities but are also members of the community.
“The concept of using the fire stations during emergencies is not a new one, but this plan aims to make this a routine option during emergencies, particularly taking into account the remote and rural landscape of the Highlands and Islands.”
On activation an operational officer will be directed to open the fire station and establish communications with the person participating in the local emergency co-ordinating group for the area or islands.
The base will then provide:
- Community reassurance
- Emergency communications where communication networks have been affected
- Cascade of agency updates to the community, either through drop in or where community resilience groups exist / council rest centres have been established
- A conduit to feed on the ground impact of an incident back to Emergency Co-ordinating Groups
- A possible location for welfare vehicles to be established
- Safety advice from relevant agencies
- A focal point for emergency responding agencies to locate
Chief Superintendent Julian Innes, Police Scotland’s Highlands and Islands Divisional Commander said: “Activation of any fire station in this role would only be undertaken where a local co-ordinating group has been established for response or in preparation to respond as per the Highlands and Islands Response Guidance.
“This is to provide a co-ordinated approach to the establishment of the facility, ensure a communications link is available between the ECG and the fire officer at site and ensure that should the need for escalation of any matter, such as a requirement for a rest centre be required; the correct partners are available to make decisions.”
The community affected will be notified of the hub’s activation through local radio announcements, social media, local noticeboard posters and word of mouth on the ground.
It should be noted that that these facilities do not replace the need for rest centre plans to be in place. They will not be used in place of a rest centre but be complimentary to these, providing a community reassurance point, communications and a point of reference for local agencies responding, such as SSE.
Local Senior Officer for Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney, Billy Wilson, said: “This plan formalises already close working relationships within our communities and it is hoped that this additional ‘tool’ for response will prove useful to the ECG’s in their decision making when faced with challenging situations.”
Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Margaret Davidson welcomed the agreement saying: “Having an agreed central point for communication and community reassurance is really important in any crisis. This is a very welcome and very sensible initiative, making best use of our local assets especially in remote and rural areas.”
Mo Bates, Stakeholder Engagement Manager at SSEPD, said: “We welcome the decision to use the SFRS locations as Communication Hubs during emergencies. This decision compliments our own operations and it will help provide a coordinated response to ensure the public remain safe.”