accessibility & help

Fires, quakes and drones

Oxford fire emergency response

The world can change in an instant. What was once familiar and predictable can disappear suddenly, leaving people feeling shocked. That was what happened in Oxford in February when people returned home to find that their apartment block had exploded.

We never know how we might react to such an event until it happens. But if we think in advance, we will be better prepared. We might be more able to cope with an emergency and help others to cope too.

Sudden destruction

Think back to a Tuesday afternoon in mid-February. Across the UK, people were going home from school or work. Some were looking forward to a special meal that evening – it was Valentine’s Day. Invite the group to imagine arriving home at 5pm that day, just as darkness fell.

Then show the photo.

House on fire in Oxfordshire© Info

This is the scene that greeted residents of Gibbs Crescent in west Oxford that day. A fire was raging in one of the block of flats. An explosion had blown a hole in a wall. Teams of firefighters were trying to control the blaze, in which one person died and two were injured. Clearly there was no possibility of “going home”.

At the moment they saw their home:

  • What might people be thinking and feeling?
  • Who might they contact, and what would they say?
  • What might they do next?

Is there general agreement within the group? Identify the common responses and any differing views.

No money, food, clothes

One local resident spoke to reporters. This is his story:

Rob Cook, 33, was prevented from returning to his flat in Gibbs Crescent. He said: “There was an almighty boom and all my mirrors and pictures came flying off the wall. It was like a horror movie, something out of Armageddon – I ran outside and people were just running about screaming, and you could hear all the secondary explosions.”

When an emergency happens, you may need support from others. Explore this by splitting into two groups. One group list the kinds of practical help that Rob Cook might need, such as where to find clothes or what to do about money. The other group look at the emotional side, listing what others could do to help him stay positive.

Bring the groups together and share ideas. Then ask young people to read the following comments from the British Red Cross emergency response team and see if they have anything to add to their ideas:

Daniel Collins, emergency response manager:

“This was a very distressing incident for those affected. We initially supported around 20 people at the scene and some pets. Our volunteers gave people the time and space to talk through how they were feeling, and work with them to decide what to do next. There were a lot of people who were clearly feeling shocked.”

Fay Gale, volunteer:

“We took a group of people to their temporary accommodation for the night. We gave them toiletries and a cup of tea and were just generally there for people if we were needed.”

Ask young people if others have ever given them support or “tea and sympathy” in a crisis. How did it feel to have someone listen to them calmly and take their problem seriously? Has anyone ever thanked them for being there and listening? (See our teacher briefing for more on giving emotional support.)

Emergencies – who does what?

Two days after the explosion, 19 of the 40 households still couldn’t go home. An estimated 60 people from different agencies were working on the scene.

Below is a list of six key agencies involved. The descriptions of what they do have been jumbled up: ask young people to match them. Remember there is some overlap and agencies do more than one job in an emergency.

  1. Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service
  2. Buckinghamshire Urban Search and Rescue team
  3. The Hazardous Area Response Team from the ambulance service
  4. Thames Valley Police
  5. British Red Cross volunteers
  6. The Emergency Planning Unit from Oxfordshire County Council

  1. supporting firefighters and helping search a collapsed building
  2. providing food, blankets and emotional support to those evacuated
  3. providing short-term immediate shelter and organising reception centres
  4. taking overall command, searching the scene and investigating the cause
  5. making the building safe and removing rubble
  6. working alongside police and the fire service to treat casualties

Key: 1e; 2a; 3f; 4d; 5b; 6c

Drone deliveries

Windhorse aid drone© Info

What is this? Clue: it is not a toy. And it’s bigger than it looks: 3 metres wide and 1.5 metres long.

After young people have made their guesses, confirm that it is a design for a drone. The hope is that it will deliver food aid to remote or inaccessible areas in times of conflict or famine.

The drone, named Pouncer, can carry up to 50kg of food. It is partly made of vegetable material that people can eat, making it an “edible drone”.

Invite young people to discuss the following:

  • Imagine you are in contact with a remote area affected by conflict or famine. What would you want to understand about the needs of the people living there? What might you ask them?
  • If you were speaking to an aid agency delivering food to the area, what would you ask them about using the drones?
  • If you were interviewing the makers of the drone, what questions would you ask?

Work in small groups, then share the questions. Select the most interesting ones. Then try to find the answers online.

Preparing for earthquakes

Geologists have warned that southern California is overdue a major earthquake. A study of the San Andreas Fault north of Los Angeles showed that major earthquakes happen there on average every 100 years. It has been 160 years since the last one.

Discuss living in an earthquake-prone area. Do you think it would give you sleepless nights of worry? Would you soon get used to the idea? Or might you be proactive and plan for it? Explain your thinking.

“Drop, cover and hold on” is a recommended way to reduce the chance of injury during an earthquake. Ask young people to search online for the Great California Shakeout to find out more about earthquake drills. They could prepare to explain what “drop, cover and hold on” means and why it is recommended. Are there more tips about preparation they can share? Why might it be important for them and other around them to be prepared? How might they plan for a natural disaster in their own local area?


This resource was written by P J White of Alt62 and published in March 2017.


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