Action-packed disaster training puts Loughborough College students on front line

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Mass evacuation, trapped babies, fires, floods and a sinking ferry were only some of the devastating scenes faced by Loughborough College students on the front line for an action-packed day of Royal Navy disaster relief training.

Marines and sailors from future flagship HMS Albion were joined by 45 Public Services and four Performing Arts students from the College for the massive three-day exercise in Plymouth Sound.

The assault ship’s crew was in the final stages of operational training in readiness for deployment – and for the regular relief missions conducted by Naval vessels around the globe.

The operation centred on a disaster site after Hurricane Vanessa had struck and the future flagship, carrying JCBs, heavy lifting equipment, landing craft and supplies, with Loughborough College students playing the injured, distressed and vulnerable in need of help.

A car had smashed into water mains with the driver trapped and unconscious under cascading water as a fire raged in another car, electricity supplies had been cut off, water supplies were contaminated and children wandered the streets, desperate to find their parents. Meanwhile, as civil and military unrest grew across the water in Devonport more than 100 British citizens needed to be evacuated.

“Red flares went up to indicate a ferry had begun to sink – with some of our students acting as refugees on board. The signal reached the Albion and the Royal Marines had to safeguard the jetty on the other side of the water and rescue the ferry passengers,” said Loughborough College Public Services lead Tim Turner.

“There were more than 1000 people involved in this exercise plus helicopters, warships and submarines, huge vehicles on tracks - and it put our students at the heart of this tough challenge, offering them a brilliant opportunity to see the forces in action and to gain an insight into the plight of disaster victims.

“It was an intense, high-pressure environment with constant demands and continual assessment simulating a scenario which is, unfortunately, familiar from real-life events in recent memory.

“Not many students are given an experience like this – a perspective that not only offers their academic work a real edge but also a glimpse into a scenario some of them hoping to join military service might well be facing in a year’s time.”

Loughborough College Performing Arts students Lauren Glasgow, Natasha Ryan-Ormiston, Jennifer Stanton and Emelia Fortuin were joined by tutor Vicki Calvert-Gooch, taking on the role of a distraught mum.

Vicki waited anxiously until her 'daughter' Lauren, babysitting a child just weeks old, was found in a flooded tunnel between two buildings in danger of collapse. Two sailors waded in and braved near freezing waters, spending half an hour shoring up the walls with planks and blocks of wood, while a first aider comforted her. Finally, almost two hours after her ordeal began, Lauren was lifted to safety, a blanket wrapped around her and the 'baby' - just a battery-powered doll - as medics offered help.

"It's a fantastic training environment and the students can really get their teeth into their roles, creating back stories to make everything realistic,” said Vicki.

“On one day, we were playing the role of refugees to be evacuated to safety by ship and were given Dutch identities so we spent time researching the correct accents to make our characters more authentic.

“The students were able to maintain their characters over a prolonged period, despite high levels of distraction. I received some fantastic feedback about their acting ability, with comments from both the Mayor of Chester and the naval training staff about how believable the students’ characters were – and how they could produce real tears as part of their role.”

Pictured: Loughborough College Public Services and Performing Arts students faced devastating scenes at the Royal Navy disaster relief exercise

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