Road Tunnels Manual

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Emergency exercises

Fig.1. Emergency exercise in the Talent tunnel (France)For road tunnels, emergency exercises should be regarded as an integral part of the tunnel emergency planning process. These exercises provide road tunnel operators with a very good opportunity to test operational instructions and highlight good practices and deficiencies, thereby helping all participants to be prepared for real events. Thus, evaluation and reporting are also essential components of emergency exercises.

In many countries, road tunnel safety regulations specify the time intervals between emergency exercises and sometimes give some indication about the contents of the exercises.

For tunnel operators, organising such emergency exercises represents a considerable task. It is notably very important for road tunnel operators to clearly define the objective(s) of each exercise and to adapt its scenario accordingly.

Technical report 2012R25EN "Best practice for road tunnel emergency exercises", inspired by a survey of current international experience in this field of expertise, provides a step-by-step guide on how to define the objectives, prepare, carry out and assess an exercise in the most efficient way. It also includes practical information on the resources required, the costs and the results to be achieved.

The report is useful as a checklist to help emergency exercise planning officers to:

  • establish exercise objectives
  • choose the most appropriate type of exercise to meet those objectives
  • establish the human and technical resources needed
  • control an exercise
  • conduct a post exercise analysis
  • evaluate the result of the exercise.

Technical report 2008R03 "Management of the operator-emergency teams interface in road tunnels" further elaborates on emergency exercises. The report highlights the necessity for contingency planning, for tunnel familiarization, for periodical exercises and for post incident analysis.

Making exercises as realistic as possible is commonly emphasized in post-accident analyses of incidents or fires and debrief reviews of emergency exercises. It is also important to ensure that emergency exercises remain acceptable in terms of staff safety, in terms of inconvenience to tunnel users and in terms of impacts on equipment.

Lessons learned from several major incidents have shown the necessity to form a partnership between the operators and the emergency services.  Both parties can be familiarised with practices through visits and emergency exercises.

Exercises where operators and emergency services train together may include:

  • table-top exercises without using operational processes that put people on alert. Such exercises test communication, or provide staff exercises, or consist of written exercises simulating the operational activation and control procedures
  • partial exercises that employ limited materials and personnel so as to test a precise part of the contingency planning for rescue
  • full-scale exercises, that activate and control the whole of the contingency planning for a serious event such as a lorry fire, or an incident with numerous casualties, etc.

Table top exercises are very useful for all emergency response services. This kind of exercise is of great value from a cost-benefit point of view to all parties involved in tunnel safety. It can successfully be conducted throughout the whole chain of response, from the operation centres, through the commanders and to the operative intervention personnel. Exercises using computer based simulator programs are regarded as both useful and effective, and enable the personnel to exercise in a virtual reality mode.

Fig.2. Emergency exercise in the Talent tunnel (France)From time to time, the operator and emergency services need to organise joint rescue exercises with the participation of all possible emergency response services such as the traffic police, the operator or the owner of the tunnel, the medical services and the emergency services. Joint rescue exercises help all parties involved in a tunnel incident to understand each other’s responsibility as well as the expectations that rest upon the different parties during an operation that aims to save lives and or to minimize damage to a tunnel, the installations or to the environment. The results of each such exercise should be analysed. If lessons drawn from an exercise reveal any deficiencies, the intervention strategies should be reviewed.

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