The short answer to that is - I hope not. That’s because something bad might have happened that has triggered the attendance of a Multi-Agency Initial Assessment Team (MAIAT). But what is MAIAT and what does it do?
In preparation for the Olympics (including the Olympic Torch Relay), a MAIAT team was established in West Midlands. The City of Coventry Stadium (known as the Ricoh Arena to Coventry City FC fans) was one of the designated Olympic venues and Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and West Midlands Fire Service had been asked to provide specialist support to Dorset, which was hosting the sailing events at Weymouth and Portland.
West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) uniquely employs four Scientific Advisors, who are able to provide scientific support as a result of, and in addition to, their external main jobs. This was a concept devised by Rob Mitchell, who also acts as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the team. I was selected to be one of the four Scientific Advisors, thanks to my experience gained with NCEC.
Left to right: Andy Grosvenor, Neil Millward, Tony Ward (all WMFS) and Bill Atkinson
The principle of MAIAT is thus, “The MAIAT will provide an initial assessment of actual or potential Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) events and rapidly detect, identify and monitor the presence of any hazardous substance to secure an informed and proportionate multi-agency response”. It builds on the concept of inter-agency working and preparedness for CBRN events, laid down in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The ‘Team’ part of MAIAT usually drawn from the three main emergency services and the idea is for the team to make the initial assessment in a low-key way, only alerting the public if it judged that there is a genuine risk.
The MAIAT used for the Olympic Torch Relay (OTR) and the football, comprised three vehicles each containing one representative each from police, fire and ambulance. As a Scientific Advisor I was one of the three fire personnel. Rather than having the full Detection Identification and Monitoring (DIM) equipment available, a much smaller (but still very capable) ‘toolkit’ was available to us to carry out some basic monitoring if needed. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was also scaled back – after all you can’t do an initial assessment in a gas-tight suit!
In the event of a suspected incident, the idea was for all three personnel in one car to respond, with the other vehicles either offering backup if needed or able to attend other incidents. During the OTR, the vehicles were stationed (sometimes quite literally – I enjoyed touring fire stations) a few minutes away from the route, out of main side but able to respond quickly if needed. Thankfully, the OTR went off without any incident and the same was true of the football in Coventry, although to answer a question I anticipate you’re thinking, no we weren’t able to pay much attention to the events on the pitch.
The second MAIAT team I was part of in Dorset was set up in a slightly different way. Once again all of the services were present, but were not mixed. All were stationed near to the Olympic venue but the services stayed together. There were reports in one newspaper about the police living in a ‘holiday camp’. All I can say is if that was true, I was with the wrong emergency service! The accommodation was a converted mobile office at the rear of Weymouth Community Centre (which includes the fire station). I think the hotel inspector had not yet had a chance to visit to award it a star rating, but I’m not sure how many stars you would get for 14 people sharing two rooms dormitory style. Still, it had atmosphere (especially after those who were off-duty had returned from a night out in the town!). It’s certainly true that you get to know your colleagues a lot better in these circumstances!
It was no holiday camp, but it sufficed. Until the really bad snorers turned up!
The time down there did allow us some rare dedicated training opportunities together with refreshers on the DIM equipment and the chance to demonstrate the equipment to the local fire crews and the other emergency services who visited the fire station. Several other fire functions including Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and a fire boat crew, from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, were also staying with us. At this point I should give a big shout out to Simon Carey and Nigel Toose, both coxswains and thoroughly decent blokes, who had to put up not only with my occasional snoring (although I wasn’t the worst offender by a long chalk!) but also allowed me on-board their fire boat for as many hours as I could manage. Being out on the fire boat meant that I got to enter the Olympic Sailing Village and see the huge flotilla of boats involved in the racing. As well as the competitors there are the timekeepers, the marshals, the media boats, the team boats, police boats, coastguard and even the occasional spectator boat out on the water. Being able to see all of this gave me more of a sense of the Olympic occasion.
I didn’t get to meet Ben Ainsley, sadly, although I came very close when he passed by while I was browsing in the souvenirs shop. I got an expensive badge from the shop, but he got a gold medal of course.
Left to right: Simon Carey (Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue), Bill Atkinson and Nigel Toose (DSFRS).
Every day we would attend a briefing and then plan our activities– training, exercising (literally and technically) or hosting visits. As well as the trips on the fire boat, I also got a chance to play a live casualty in a training exercise for the HART (Hazardous Area Response Team) ambulance team. At one point they had to evacuate the casualties, or at least some of them. I was one of the ones left behind. As one of the HART team wryly observed later on, “it’s always the larger ones that get left behind in training”.
Apart from training, the whole event went by relatively incident free. My advice was called upon once, although it was quite early in the morning. I was asked whether soap could be used to make explosives. Even after a sudden awakening, I was able to confirm that that was not very likely. A fire colleague volunteered that he agreed with my advice unless it was ‘to make a clean bomb’. I thought that quite witty, especially considering it was still before 6am.
Since the successful conclusion to the Olympics, there has been much talk of ‘legacy’. For me, I hope the main legacy is that the close cooperation and camaraderie established between the personnel involved in the MAIATs is maintained and can be applied to future events (and one in which we would be happy to participate at NCEC). For me, that would be like our ‘gold medal’ moment. No special postage stamp or painted postbox required.