As published in the April 2018 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald
On Wednesday 28th February 2018 Storm Emma hit Ireland and collided with the Beast from the East to provide the country with the heaviest snowfall it had seen since 1982. Met Éireann issued a red weather warning to much of Ireland’s east, southeast and midlands in the run-up to the event that initially brought Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow and Meath to a halt before spreading to much of the rest of the country. Many roads remained impassable until the thaw that began on Monday 5 March reached them.
Parts of Wicklow and Carlow reported 60cm of snowfall, compared to the previous Met Éireann recorded of 45cm at Casement Aerodrome on New Year’s Eve 1962.
During this period of extreme weather, the Defence Forces deployed 1,814 personnel and 533 vehicles in a range of tasks to support the civil authorities, and Tuesday 6th March saw them still operational, clearing snow and ice from towns in County Wexford; Blessington in Wicklow; and Naas and Clane in Kildare.
Defence Forces personnel provided a significant support role in the major emergency response, with deployments across a wide spectrum of activities. ‘Manpower and mobility’ deployments, using 4x4s, and other specialist vehicles, took place in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Donegal, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
Members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence provided ambulance services and patient transfers for hospitals, while also helping local authorities to clear roads blocked by the heavy snowfall.
The range of assistance provided was extremely varied and the following list of activities only represents the tip of the iceberg: road clearance in Kildare, Laois, Meath, Waterford and Wexford; transporting HSE staff and patients; transporting people for dialysis treatment; providing paramedic support and ambulance services; transporting midwives and essential staff to the Coombe and Holles St maternity hospitals; carrying out Meals on Wheels runs; supporting the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade; transporting essential Met Éireann staff; clearing snow and ice from Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Harold’s Cross Hospice; transporting essential Prison Service staff; and providing transportation support to An Garda Síochána.
Members of the Reserve Defence Force were also on hand to help their PDF colleagues, including providing a 6×6 truck to support the ESB’s electricity reconnection works in Cork.
Such a well-coordinated response was enabled to a great degree by a number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) agreed between the Department of Defence (DoD) and a number of other government departments and agencies as a framework for the provision of services. In this framework, the Defence Forces are seen as a major resource in supporting local authorities on a 24/7 basis during civil emergencies such as severe weather, floods, forest fires, etc.
Lt Col Mark Staunton, OIC Current Operations, J 3/5, DFHQ, says: “ATCA requests from An Garda Síochána, local authorities or the HSE, who are the primary response agencies (PRAs), are routed to us through Executive Branch, Department of Defence.
“Once the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre (NECC) is stood up, we deploy a liaison officer from Plans and Capabilities Section, J3/5, to collaborate with our colleagues from DoD to represent the defence organisation’s support capabilities. Additionally, local MEM regional teams are stood up by the PRAs with local DF liaison officers in attendance to manage DF support to the PRAs at a local level.
“During Storm Emma the HSE experienced significant difficulties with their comms infrastructure, and as an interim measure, while the HSE’s comms infrastructure was being re-established, the DF agreed to take direct HSE emergency support requests through the tactical operations centres (TOCs) in 1 Bde, 2 Bde and the DFTC. This proved very successful in managing a myriad of HSE emergency callouts such as dialysis patient transfers, critical care staff movements and emergency patient transfers.”
The minister for defence chairs a government task force in the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), which comprises those ministers and/or senior officials of government departments and public authorities that make a key contribution to the emergency planning process.
The NECC, which was established in 2007, is where ministers and/or senior civil servants can convene to co-ordinate national responses to a major emergency, and is equipped with the latest robust communications systems and support facilities. DF Operations Branch staff officers attend all NECC meetings, where they advise on DF capabilities and resources.
According to a report in the Sunday Independent, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe TD paid tribute to the members of the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence who contributed to the relief efforts, saying: “Defence Force personnel responded to every request, which ranged from transferring a significant number of dialysis patients, transporting medication to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and ensuring a sick child could receive a passport so that they could travel abroad for medical attention…Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence showed once again that during a time of emergency, the community is put first.”
On the morning of Thursday 1st March 2018 when Met Éireann issued a non-essential travel advisory for after 4pm that day, the DF Press Office announced: ‘Defence Forces personnel will be available for in extremis situations of life and death after 4pm today. We will be asking the regional emergency co-ordination mangers of the HSE, and others, to prioritise tasks so that we can mitigate the risks to our own personnel.’
A number of years ago the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning launched a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information campaign to give the public advice on how to prepare for severe weather and highlight the ‘whole of government’ approach being taken. The central message of this information campaign is simply to encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe and to know where to find help if they need it. There is a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information booklet available at www.winterready.ie
A View from the Coalface: 3 Inf Bn ATCA operations during Storm Emma
Significant snowfall in 3 Inf Bn’s area of operations (AO), comprising of Kilkenny, Wexford, East Tipperary, Waterford and Carlow, saw 3 Inf Bn personnel deploying across the southeast in various roles, all under the umbrella of aid to the civil authority (ATCA). Due to the large AO, various elements of the transport fleet, ranging from Pajero 4x4s, Scania 6x6s, and a snowplough, were prepositioned to RDF centres in both Wexford and Waterford. This decision was pivotal in providing flexibility to meet the requests that that would soon be arriving.
Personnel were co-located with each county’s crisis management centre and HSE centre. This enabled the forming of a mutually supporting face-to-face relationship with key stakeholders to ensure that DF personnel and assets were deployed in a timely and effective manner throughout the operation.
The ATCA deployment lasted for a full eight days. Most significantly, the battalion’s Scania 6x6s, snowplough, and Pajero 4x4s conducted 40 emergency calls to homes in the greater Wexford area in support of the HSE. Personnel also drove and assisted HSE paramedics in dealing with emergency medical cases.
A number of these tasks took place over a number of hours at night, with DF personnel and their HSE counterparts traversing snow drifts by foot for a number of kilometres to ensure that necessary medical equipment and supplies arrived at their objective.
In addition, Defence Forces’ assets were used to transfer 80 dialysis patients to and from various renal clinics across the South East for their essential daily appointments.
Community health nurses were transported to treat patients; Meals on Wheels deliveries were made to vulnerable, mainly elderly, people; and staff transfers from all of the principal hospitals in the region took place.
The deployment culminated in mobilising a full company of troops to travel to Wexford to assist in snow clearing at strategic infrastructural locations such as hospitals, public transport hubs, schools, clinics, and pedestrian footpaths. 3 Inf Bn’s assets were supplemented by 1 Bde Tpt Coy, 1 Inf Bn, DFTC Tpt and DFTC Engr Group at various times of the operation. Over eight consecutive days, 3 Inf Bn deployed 408 troops and 30 vehicles to successfully complete over 380 tasks in support of the civil authorities.
On March troops from 7 Inf Bn dug this lovely lady and her brother out of their snowed-in house in Roundwood and discovered that it was her 100th birthday the next day. Lt Richard O’Hagan said: “It was great to have the opportunity to meet Ms Doyle on the eve of her 100th birthday. As we were working in the same area the following day we decided we would call back with a card and a cake to help her celebrate the big occasion.” Photo: Sgt (AR) Hazel Brennan, 7 Inf Bn
Pictured are Sgt Alan Graham, Sgt Ollie McNamee, Cpl Eddie Donlon and comrades from 2 Bde Arty Regt deliver Meals on Wheels. “The Defence Forces wherever they are needed is where they are.” Photo: Retired RSM Noel O’Callaghan, 2 BAR
“Outstanding work by Capt Sean Gough and Sgt Brian Buckley, Recce Pl, SP Coy, 7 Inf Bn, who conducted an insertion march from Brittas into Kilbride Camp to conduct a relief-in-place with duty personnel and to resupply local residents with much-needed food supplies.” – Coy Sgt Gerry Duff, 7 Inf Bn
“Thank you to the Irish Defence Forces, ESB, local farmers and great communities throughout Ireland, for helping to clear roads, and reconnect power and water in areas isolated by snow. This is a photo taken in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Saturday 3 March, of a Defence Forces 6×6 leading an ESB truck out to Minane Bridge, Novohol and Roberts’ Cove area.” – Grainne Lynch PMP CMILT, Pharma Supply Chain Logistics, VP Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). Photo: Caroline James
Pictured are Cpl Steve Holloway, Logan Shepard (7), and Advanced Paramedic Declan Cunningham of the National Ambulance Service, based out of Wexford General Hospital. Logan needs medical machinery 24/7 and when Storm Emma cut the electricity near his home in Cleariestown, Co Wexford, he had to be dashed to hospital.
In the middle of one the worst snowfalls in living memory in Wexford, Steve and Declan were tasked with attending to this extremely sick child whose home was inaccessible by road. They trekked almost 3km through snowdrifts to tend to Logan and then brought him back on foot to the waiting military ambulance.
Pte Anthony Armstrong from 1 Bde Tpt Coy and Gnr Ger Twomey from 1 BAR pictured with Tracy Quirke and her baby Ella, born at 10.30am on 2nd March 2018, in the middle of the weather crisis. “They are angels living on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” Tracy’s mother, Jacky Quirke, told the Irish Examiner. Tracy went into labour a week early at 2.30am at the home she shares with partner Darren Galvin on the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork. Although the peninsula was cut off by snowdrifts up to 6ft deep, Pte Armstrong and Gnr Twomey managed to collect Tracy in their 6×6 truck and transport her to Cork University Maternity Hospital. Earlier family and neighbours had spent 3hrs clearing a 4km path from the house to Barrell’s Cross. Photo: Irish Examiner
Sgt Joanne Doyle Rooney, CMU DFTC, pictured with HSE members deploying to rescue a patient stuck in a remote area of Co Kildare. Troops from the DFTC also transported essential nursing staff to a local nursing home in 4×4 vehicles and provided a snowplough to Kildare County Council for use in Newbridge, Athgarvan, Kilcullen and the Curragh. Photo: Cpl Paul Burke, CMU 2 Bde
Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.