The Government Decontamination Service (GDS) was set up in 2005 following a review of the UK Government’s resilience to deal with the consequences of a range of emergencies. GDS is part of the Food and Environment Research Agency.
The primary functions of GDS are:
- To provide 24/7 advice, guidance and assistance on decontamination related issues to responsible authorities in their contingency planning for, and response to, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) and HazMat incidents
- To maintain and build on the GDS framework of specialist suppliers and ensure that responsible authorities have access to these services if the need arises
- To advise central Government on the national capability for the decontamination of buildings, infrastructure, transport and the open environment, and be a source of expertise in the event of a CBRN incident or major release of HazMat materials.
GDS achieves these functions through its ongoing programme of work, which includes a wide range of projects and work streams designed to bridge gaps in UK recovery capability. GDS manages a framework of specialist private sector suppliers who can be called upon to provide sampling, decontamination and waste management services following an incident. GDS assures supplier capabilities through a number of evaluations and a contract management process.
The work of GDS typically benefits a range of public and private sector stakeholders. For example, during January and February 2012 GDS organised a joint response (acute) and recovery workshop, based around the scenario of a CBRN incident at a major transport node. Delegates representing the FRS, Police, and NHS, private sector businesses, recovery experts, local government and central government departments were invited to the event, both as participants and observers.
The main aim was to take those responsible for response and recovery through the various phases of a CBRN incident from start to finish, i.e. from the bang, right up to the point of release back to the general public or “new normality”. Recovering to a new normality is the process of rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating the community following an emergency, ensuring that the community is progressed to a new normality by identifying any opportunities that go beyond recovery and could achieve longer term regeneration and development.
The workshop aimed to identify the impact decisions made during the response and recovery phases can have on the overall recovery timeline using current state UK structures and guidance such as Strategic National Guidance (SNG)1 and the UK Recovery Handbooks (chemical and radiological)2 produced by Public Health England (PHE). It also allowed stakeholders representing businesses affected to identify critical points of failure.
The workshop was very interactive and resulted in a huge amount of discussion and consideration for the first responders and those concerned with recovery. The response workshop enabled organisations which would be involved in the initial stages of a CBRN incident, such as fire and rescue service and other emergency services, to run through the scenario.
This gave recovery organisations not typically involved in the acute phase of an incident, including GDS and its suppliers, an opportunity to really understand and appreciate the immediate and short term constraints in response. It provided the observers with a real opportunity to see how incidents are approached. This was reversed for the recovery phase of the workshop whereby the response delegates, not involved in the recovery phase, were able to see how their initial decisions and actions impacted on those dealing with the recovery.
By running the workshop through both the response and recovery process all attendees were able to appreciate and understand what was involved. Importantly the workshops highlighted how decisions made, and actions undertaken during the initial response can assist in the timely recovery just by adapting or considering recovery during the response phase e.g. assistance taking runoff water in order to limit discharge to storm drains or the setting up of storage ponds. This also helped to improve understanding of the communications process during an incident and how information can be passed to the recovery organisations to allow decontamination strategies to be initiated at the earliest opportunity. None of these adaptations or considerations compromised the acute response, effort to save life or the criminal investigation.
Out comes from this have included the design and delivery of a series of training courses with the Police National CBRN Centre for Tactical Advisors delivered throughout 2013 and which are now being reviewed for implementation as part of Gold Commander training in 2014. The course aims to make first responders aware of the impact their decisions could have on recovery and how they can assist the recovery process as part of the acute response. More recently GDS has been approached concerning the possibility of using its framework of specialists to remediate following individual chemical exposures, including the handling, transport and final disposal of related waste.
GDS is always interested in engaging with stakeholders who would like to improve their understanding of the link between response and recovery. If you would like any further information please contact us via email [email protected] or by phone 0300 1000 315.
For more information, go to www.fera.defra.gov.uk/gds
1 https://www.gov.uk/ government/publications/strategic-national-guidance-the-decontamination-of-buildings-infrastructure-and-open-environment-exposed-to-chemical-biological-radiological-or-nuclear-materials