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AA Special Operations Response Team
In recent years, the AA has been involved in flood and severe weather response in a number of locations - Gloucester and Tewkesbury in 2007 and many places since including York, Sheffield and Cumbria.
Historically the AA's involvement has been by default rather than by design. Today's legislation makes an ad-hoc response inappropriate and a more thorough approach essential.
The increase in severe weather events prompted the AA in 2008 to establish its Special Operations Response Team (AA SORT). This is a specialist resource equipped and professionally trained to undertake vehicle recovery in floods and other severe weather.
Operating in floods
The team was involved for a full week in the Cumbria floods in 2009, and throughout the extended snowy weather during the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, when they worked in co-operation with local Police, Fire & Rescue Services and the Highways Agency.
Among other incidents, the AA assisted the Highways Agency in reopening the snowbound A417 at Birdlip Hill, Gloucestershire.
Highways Agency Emergency Planning Officer Rob Llewellyn commented, "The AA assisted us in removing broken down and abandoned vehicles and helped motorists struggling in the snowy conditions thereby enabling us to reopen the road much quicker than would otherwise have been possible. The AA crews also provided us with detailed situation reports that were very useful in helping us to manage the incident."
Operating in snow
The AA is offering this service, on a 'pay for use' basis, to organisations with responsibility for flood and other severe weather response. As the UK's leading motoring organisation, the AA specialises in vehicle repair and recovery.
The AA SORT team offers a resource experienced in vehicle recovery which is trained and equipped to work in a flood zone. All crew members are fully trained, wear appropriate PPE and carry on-board decontamination facilities.
Pre-registration is required, for which a small one-off Registration Fee is charged. Thereafter charges are incurred only on use.
AA SORT took part in Exercise Berwyn in April 2013 alongside all of the emergency services and other responders including HM Coastguard, Natural Resources Wales, Gwynedd County Council , RAF Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue and RNLI.
Andrew English spends time 'on a shout' with the AA Special Operations Response Team for the spring edition of the AA Magazine.
The AA SORT team now numbers nearly 90, and is made up almost exclusively of AA employees with a normal ‘day’ job elsewhere in the organisation. Some are roadside patrols and others work in office-based roles including contact centre staff who normally answer breakdown calls.
All volunteer for the team and are willing to leave the van or desk – and often home and family too – at short notice when required to respond.
Every member of the team has been trained to deal with those stranded in weather-related situations, principally floods, snow and off-road – the latter mainly at summer events and music festivals where motorists can become bogged down in the muddy fields being used as car parks.
Training includes on and off-road driving together with the use of electric winches, kinetic tow ropes and other aids. Most team members are certified as Swiftwater Rescue Technicians (DEFRA Level 3), providing them with water rescue and search and rescue capabilities, enabling them to work as part of a co-ordinated multi-agency response - in 2012 they've worked alongside Mountain Rescue and regularly undertake multi agency training exercises.
In addition to the operational crews we now also have two qualified WFIMs, Water and Flood Incident Managers. They are responsible for managing The AA’s response to major flooding incidents and to provide a knowledgeable liaison as part of a local or national Incident Command Structure.
To help us meet the yearly training requirements for a Defra team type we also now have our own agency Swiftwater & flood Rescue Technician Instructor (SRTI) to provide continuation training to the team between their 3 yearly SRT recertification courses.
The position of AA SORT within the flood response arena moved on considerably during 2013. The team now has a seat on the All Wales Inland Water Rescue Group and the CFOA Water Rescue Group. Our place within these groups gives us a voice on behalf of the motorist in water rescue decision making at the highest level.
Since it was first deployed in December 2008, AA SORT has seen only a handful of months with no activity.
The floods in Cumbria in November 2009 saw seven days of constant activity, working with the local police, fire service and others.
The winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 ensured the team spent many days – and sometimes nights – out on the roads, liaising with police and the Highways Agency, to clear roads and remobilise stranded motorists.
And in 2012 the team has been following the storm clouds across the length and breadth of the country, from Inverness in the north to Aberystwyth in the west, Ipswich in the east, and Bognor Regis, the Isle of Wight and east Devon in the south – not to mention a list of places in between including Yorkshire, Lancashire, Tyneside, the West Midlands and Kent.
John Seymour, National Manager, AA Special Operations,
T: 07917 599040
Hils Everitt spends a day in the snow in Kent with the AA's Iain Gillespie
Temperatures were below freezing, there was a feeling of snowfall in the murky air beneath the grey clouds amassed over a dark and gloomy west Kent. Inside the custard yellow Land Rover Defender 110 all was reasonably warm and cosy, until our pilot Iain Gillespie wound his window down so that he could get some reasonable elbow room. Suddenly a rush of icy air spat into the 110, sending shivers down the spine.
Read more »
Sam Jones writing for The Guardian spent some time with the AA's Special Operations Response Team in December 2010 as they battled the elements in snowy Kent. In tow with the ice road rescuers »
Land Rover World (Feb 2010)
The February 2010 issue of Land Rover World Magazine included an in-depth feature on the work of the AA SORT team in Cumbria during the floods of November 2009.
Download the extract from Land Rover World magazine (2.33MB pdf document reproduced with kind permission of Land Rover World Magazine)
The February 2010 issue of Emergency Services Times also featured the work of the AA SORT team in Cumbria.
Download the extract from Emergency Services Times (100Kb pdf document, reproduced with the kind permission of Emergency Services Times)
(14 June 2013)
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