Exercise PLUME, a series of 12 live exercises to test new arrangements for managing major air quality incidents

In the aftermath of the Buncefield oil storage depot fire and explosion, RAB Consultants was commissioned to deliver 12 control-post exercises to test new arrangements for managing major air quality incidents.

Since the Buncefield oil storage depot fire and explosion, the Environment Agency coordinates interpreted air quality information during major air pollution incidents and provides an improved air quality monitoring capability. One aspect of these new arrangements is the introduction of a new program, Atlas Incident Management System or AIMS. The aim of Exercise PLUME was to practice the use of this system as a means of logging data and communications between Air Quality Cell (AQC) members during an incident.

The exercise was run 12 times, and involved the following organisations:

  • Environment Agency
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Health Protection Agency
  • Met Office
  • Health and Safety Laboratory

Exercise PLUME was a “control-post” exercise played in real time using live weather conditions.  We developed a scenario in which a fire had broken out in an upholstery warehouse in Winchester.  We established Exercise Control at our Lichfield office and role played various organisations.  Acting as the Fire and Rescue Service, we contacted the Met Office to request a CHEmical METeorology (CHEMET) Report. From this point, play was live, and mimicked the response to a real air quality incident.

The AQC was established “virtually” and all communication took place via telephone, email and using AIMS, monitored by us at Exercise Control. We concluded the exercise with a teleconference debrief and made several recommendations on the use of AIMS and the workings of the AQC. Our post exercise report has been passed to all participating organisations and the Cabinet Office.