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Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

Exercise Orion (now ended)

6 to 10 September 2010

Exercise Orion

Introduction to Exercise Orion

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is playing host to a major European exercise this September. Funded by the European Union, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service will be taking part in a multi agency disaster exercise to test resilience and European partnership working.

Exercise Orion is being led by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service but the practical element is being hosted at Fort Widley in Hampshire from September 6 to September 10. It will be a simulated earthquake scenario with the epicentre under Fort Widely on Portsdown Hill, outside Portsmouth. This unlikely scenario has been selected to test parts of the UK’s national resilience and how international help might be incorporated in a catastrophic emergency.

Exercise Orion will test the UK’s response to this large-scale disaster to the limit, eventually exhausting some specialist aspects of UK capacity. At this point the Cabinet Office will activate an assistance request from other countries through the EU civil protection mechanism.

Countries that are sending teams to assist the UK for this exercise are Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. A further search and rescue team from the United Arab Emirates will also be participating.

Exercise Orion is a major exercise and despite every attempt by the organisers to minimise disruption, members of the public may experience delays along Portsdown Hill Road, outside Portsmouth, or see smoke clouds issuing from the fort. Please note that this is part of the exercise.

Urban Search and Rescue exercise at Fort Widley

Exercise Orion - aims

The main aims of the exercise are to:

  • Test the activation and understanding of the European Union Community Mechanism to provide mutual aid to the affected Member State (MS) from the EU;
  • Test the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection and coordination of assistance through the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC – based in Brussels);
  • Test the deployment, command and effectiveness of the EU Module system;
  • Test the deployment and operation of EU assessment and coordination teams;
  • Test the coordination of incoming EU assistance;
  • Test existing EU communication and information systems;

Exercise Orion will also, for the first time, test England’s ability to receive, command and work alongside emergency response teams from other EU member states;

  • by verifying operational and strategic procedures of all nation teams involved;
  • by providing an opportunity to establish an operational and common understanding of EU civil protection cooperation;
  • by providing learning opportunities for all civil protection teams involved;
  • by providing an opportunity to test a major deployment of assets;
  • by enhancing operational cooperation between involved parties.
Urban Search and Rescue exercise at Fort Widley

Exercise Orion - timetable

Day 1 Tuesday 7th September

9.40 am the Earthquake occurs with its epicentre under Fort Widley, Portsdown Hill

  • The first response is from Hampshire Fire and Rescue resources and other Hampshire Responders including the police and ambulance.
  • Multiple incidents will be simulated in Hampshire requiring the presence of 20 pumps, 10 special vehicles and 10 officers

10 am - The Command structures are established

  • National assistance requested, meaning other Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams are requested amongst others
  • Bronze and Silver command are established at Fort Widley (Command Unit)
  • Gold/Strategic Command Group initiated
  • HFRS Major Incident Room initiated
  • Other agencies establishing    

11 am - the first two UK USAR units arrive at the Strategic Holding Area (SHA)

11.30/12.00 am - The third and fourth UK USAR team arrives

  • 1200 am - The Enhanced Command Support, National Resilience Assurance Team and USAR Subject Matter Advisers all arrive to run the SHA and support the incident.

Due to the combined needs of the UK incident an international assistance request is triggered

  • 4 pm/5 pm The first of the international USAR teams start to arrive
  • 5 pm – overnight: The European Union teams establish a Base of Operation (BoO) and start to operate in cooperation with UK resources.

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Day 2 Wednesday 8th September

  • Operations will continue throughout the day by all teams to test every aspect of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) operations and co-ordination.
  • There will also be additional scenario injects indicating multiple sites and scenarios.

Day 3 Thursday 9th September

Operations will continue through the day with Exercise Orion coming to an end at 1700.

Urban Search and Rescue exercise at Fort Widley

Exercise Orion - media

In December 2008 a bid was made by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) for European Union (EU) funding to conduct an international exercise in the second half of 2010. Co signatories to the application included Lincolnshire FRS, Hampshire FRS, The Fire Service College, and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW).


Coordinating Communications for Exercise Orion is being led by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service Senior Communications Officer, Lara Hejazi, on 01992 555615.

The Hertfordshire team is being supported operationally by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Communications team, on 023 8062 6812.

Members of the media wishing to attend Exercise Orion are asked to contact the Media team for media accreditation.

Exercise Orion media pack (opens new window) PDF 283Kb

Further information and articles relating to Exercise Orion


Exercise Orion - images

Photographs from Exercise Orion:

Image from Exercise Orion, 9 September 2010 Image from Exercise Orion, 9 September 2010

Image from Exercise Orion, 9 September 2010

Image from Exercise Orion, 9 September 2010