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Exercise Hermes

January 2010

On 28th October the North West region hosted a multi-agency table top exercise with support from the TIM team. The exercise was opened by Jerry Graham, Assistant Chief Constable for Cumbria Police Constabulary. Jerry acknowledged the need for all responders to work together during the management of incidents.

Exercise Hermes was designed to test incident responders' plans and the level of interaction between all involved. The scenario was developed around a significant collision on the strategic road network in Cumbria.

During the exercise, a series of presentations were delivered by various agencies, including:

  • Traffic Officer Service
  • North West Motorway Police Group (NWMPG)
  • National Traffic Control Centre (NTCC)
  • AmeyMouchel Area 13 Service Provider
  • British Waterways
  • Environment Agency
  • FMG Support - Highways Agency's National Vehicle Recovery Manager)

Each organisation gave an overview to their organisations capabilities during the management of an incident.

This article provides an insight to the exercise; identifying good practice and learning points from its subsequent debrief.


Cumbria Local Resilience Forum (LRF) had identified that a serious road traffic collision on the strategic road network has a high risk rating score within their community risk register.  

Following discussions between Cumbria and Lancashire's LRF, and the Highways Agency, Exercise Hermes was developed to test various incident responders' capabilities in managing an incident on the strategic road network.

What is a Local Resilience Forum?

A LRF is the primary means for multi-agency cooperation under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. LRFs are generally based on local Police areas (with the exception of London), and bring together all the organisations who have a duty to co-operate under the Civil Contingencies Act, along with others who would be involved in the response.

For further information on LRF, please follow the link.

Exercise Hermes

Exercise Hermes was based on a real location, with typical activities from managing incidents on the strategic road network. Each attendee contributed to the decision-making process as they would do in their normal role within their organisation.

The location used was close to the Cumbria / Lancashire border and enabled cross-border and collaborative working to be initiated between the local authorities, at both a political and organisational level.   

The exercise was underpinned by a series of objectives agreed by Cumbria & Lancashire LRF prior to the exercise taking place.

Exercise Objectives

  • Provide an opportunity to highlight the capabilities of incident responders
  • Validate emergency response and recovery arrangements on the strategic road network
  • Test inter-organisation communications
  • Consider the welfare of responders at the incident scene and the travelling public trapped in congestion
  • Consider the response of the Environment Agency and other related organisations to incidents
  • Identify areas of improvement for organisations' policies, plans and procedures; specifically focusing on cross border working arrangements

Exercise Attendees

Attendees included representation from the Highways Agency Traffic Officer Service, Emergency Planners, Service Providers and Vehicle Recovery. In addition, there were representatives from Cumbria and Lancashire Local Authority Emergency Planners and Highway Departments, the Police, Ambulance, Fire & Rescue Service and Environmental Health Departments. Furthermore, the Environment Agency and British Waterways also both provided representation at the event.

Exercise Scenario

Exercise Hermes was based on a 999 call from a member of the public who reported a multi-vehicle road traffic collision on the M6 Southbound between junctions 35 and 36, on Saturday 28th August, a Bank Holiday weekend.

The collision involved two large goods vehicles (LGVs) colliding on the Southbound blocking the carriageway and damaging the overbridge structure. This resulted in debris spilling onto the Northbound carriageway obstructing lanes two and three. In addition a milk tanker, left the road and slid down the embankment landing in the canal adjacent to the Southbound carriageway and began to leak.

Exercise Hermes - Scenario

As a result of the collision, there were 3 - 4 trapped person(s), 5 - 10 requiring assistance and 10 - 15 walking wounded.  There were no fatalities or person(s) with life threatening injuries which meant there was no need for the Police to carry out an in-depth investigation into the incident.

For further information on the incident scenario (Flash Presentation), please follow the link.

Exercise Outcomes

The scenario was broken down into four sessions, which have been taken from the Traffic Incident Management Cycle. After each session, there was a structured debrief between the various attendees to identify and capture any emerging good practice or lessons learned.

Session 1: Discovery and Verification

Attendees discussed how the initial information regarding the incident would be received, and then disseminated to their partner organisations together with what resources if any they would deploy at this early stage.  All attendees agreed that once the nature of the incident had been confirmed, it would be escalated to Silver Command status.  In order to gather the specifics associated with the incident, SAD CHALETS would be employed.

Good Practice
  • Multi-agency working - All organisations deployed resources proactively to ensure that an adequate response was present at the incident scene. During this stage, there was good communication between all organisations to ensure all objectives were recorded and all responders were aware of what they needed to do. This is the first step to successful multi-agency working.
Learning Point
  • Control room operators - Call handlers in Control Rooms, including the Regional Control Centre, should request marker post locations when taking the initial reports from members of the public.

Operators receiving the initial calls reporting incidents should attempt to obtain more information from callers to obtain the exact location of an incident. Marker posts and Driver Location Signs are present on the motorway network, and some all purpose trunk roads and give this information. The operators should encourage callers to look for the nearest one.

Session 2: Initial Response

Having received the initial call the attendees discussed the role each organisation would undertake based on the information provided, with timescales for when resources would be mobilised.  Due to the scale of the incident, both carriageways were closed by the Highways Agency's Service Provider, and Emergency Diversion Routes implemented.

The Fire and Rescue Service informed other stakeholders that they would deploy four units (one per reported trapped person), together with their Environmental Protection Unit.  To assist with the 'walking wounded' the Ambulance Service began to look into using their bus facility to transfer some people to a scene triage sited at a suitable location nearby to enable assessment of the minor injuries.  Those with more serious injuries would be transported to various hospitals in the region to spread the load. 

The National Vehicle Recovery Manager (NVRM) planned to deploy an incident manager to the scene to assess what resources were required and ensure the correct ones were deployed to the incident in readiness for the recovery stage.

Good Practice
  • Stakeholder alert system - Both Lancashire and Cumbria operate an alert system for significant incidents (Merlin and Unusual Incident respectively).  This enables both counties to ensure that a wide range of stakeholders are automatically notified of incidents that may require their attendance at a very early stage.
  • Using an alert system reduces the time required to mobilise resources which then enables the carriageway to be repaired quickly as resources are on scene. It also enhances cross-border working arrangements between two local authorities.
Learning Point
  • Airwave communications - The Police are able to establish a talk-group on airwave between themselves, other Emergency Services and the Traffic Officer Service. Not all responders use this system making communications more difficult.
  • Limited resources - Some responders have limited resources on-call at incidents both in and out of normal working hours. This needs to be understood and appreciated by all involved in the management of an incident.

Session 3: Scene Management

The scene management stage of the exercise was divided into two parts:

  • Development of a traffic management strategy for traffic which is trapped in and travelling towards the incident scene. This also involved the implementation of Emergency Diversion Routes and their likely impact on the local road network.
  • The bridge which was struck by the LGV had not been inspected by the bridge inspector and until deemed safe, all agencies are to avoid operating beneath or on top. Milk was reported to be leaking from the tanker and spilling into the canal, which supports a range of wildlife and flows into nearby local streams.

Due to the protracted nature of the incident, both Strategic and Emergency Diversion Routes were implemented, with the assistance of NTCC for both carriageways. Due to the close proximity of a local motorway service area (MSA) the Traffic Officer Service directed traffic out onto the local network from local access roads at the rear of the MSA. 

Exercise Hermes

As the incident progressed further, the temperature had risen to approximately 30°C placing concerns about the welfare of those who were still trapped in the stationary traffic. In addition to this, there was also livestock which was in the process of being transported along that stretch of the motorway.

The exercise attendees prioritised the issues. Firstly, they began looking at clearing the southbound carriageway together with the environmental spillage, having taken advice from the Environment Agency. They also began assessing how drinking water could be distributed to those trapped in the surrounding traffic around the incident; however it was agreed that due to the resource implications it was more pertinent to focus on releasing the trapped traffic.

Identified Good Practice
  • Advising stakeholders - Cartmel Racecourse was contacted to advise those leaving the course about the incident, asking them to stagger their journeys and also advise them of alternative routes.
  • Technical assistance - Mobile variable message signs (VMS) were deployed by the Service Provider to enable more information to be provided to the public.
  • Emergency Customer Welfare - Within the North West, the Highways Agency has an additional Emergency Customer Welfare (ECW) capability compared to elsewhere in England.  Through using their Service Providers they have 70,000 half litre bottles of water available, 7,000 blankets, 7,000 wet wipes and 140 full sets of PPE for other responders who may be drafted into assist.  This can be deployed by the Service Provider and the Traffic Officer Service and is not reliant on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Identified Learning Points
  • Emergency Customer Welfare - The Highways Agency informed the attendees that the MoU with voluntary organisations to provide ECW has expired and has not been renewed.
  • Emergency Diversion Routes - Lack of clarity in relation to Emergency Diversion Routes; various stakeholders are unclear on what the routes are, their approval status and the mechanism for implementing them. 

Session 4: Recovery and Restoration of Normality

The incident at this stage was still ongoing, although the bridge had been declared safe following minor works. The Vehicle Recovery Operator began the recovery of the LGVs. The exercise attendees expected that the Northbound carriageway would be fully reopened within 3.5 hours and the Southbound in 6.5 hours.

The Police at this stage handed over the scene to the Traffic Officer Service who continued to manage the incident, in conjunction with the Service Provider.  It was suggested and agreed that the recovery of the milk tanker would be delayed until a later time to save any further disruption.

Identified Good Practice
  • Tanker recovery - Leaving the milk tanker in situ following consultation with the Environment Agency and British Waterways until the early hours to save any further disruption.
  • Stakeholder liaison - The local authorities were contacted prior to the reopening of the road to ensure that they were ready and able to stand down their resources.


The aim of the exercise had been to test a multi agency response together at a strategic and operational level.

At the final debrief it was agreed by the attendees that the exercise had been valuable as it gave an insight into partner organisations' capabilities and procedures. 97% of attendees rated the format of the exercise as either good or excellent, with 100% rating it as fair or above.

Ian Baron, Emergency Planning Manager for the North West concluded:

"The exercise supplied the Highways Agency with an excellent opportunity to plan and collaborate with their multi-agency partners through Local Resilience Forums. This will enable communication between the agencies to improve and inter-agency knowledge to be enhanced further. The input of our partners in the planning of the exercise was invaluable."

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