This week I’ve been training for a role that I really hope I never actually have to fill, at a place whose name I struggled to spell.
The role? Taking calls from concerned relatives in the wake of a major incident.
The word? Bureaua. No, Burauro. No, Bureau. Casualty Bureau.
What does the West Midlands Police Casualty Bureau do then and why do we have one?
If you follow my Twitter feed you may have time to time heard me referring to a worst case scenario where things go all ‘Holby City’ on us. This isn’t police speak as such, but I think it sums up fairly well the worst case disaster that we all hope will never happen.
By things going Holby City, I mean the plane plunging out of the sky, the huge pile up on the motorway or the train full of nuclear waist derailing just outside Bescot.
These are all what us police are likely to refer to (actual term this time) as ‘major incidents’ – ones that are likely to require the involvement of multiple agencies, cause emergency action to swing into place and attract the calls of many concerned friends or relatives fearfully calling us asking whether their relatives have been affected.
It’s the taking of these calls where the Casualty Bureau comes in. As a Casualty Bureau volunteer I am, along with several hundred other officers around the force, on standby to come into HQ at short notice and take details from these calls.
The system is fairly straightforward – we’ll take a call from, say, a relative of a passenger on board the fallen airliner and we’ll enter all of the passenger’s details onto our computer system, CasWeb.
At the same time emergency services at the scene will be taking the details of any survivors or evacuees and feeding these details back to us. We enter this information onto the system and look to match up the records.
In the unfortunate event that there have been fatalities, the same process is followed with details of the deceased sent to the Casualty Bureau and then if matched with a missing person record, a specially trained Family Liaison Officer dispatched to support the family.
Each force has a Casualty Bureau and we all run on the same system meaning we can support each other and take calls on each other’s behalf.
This theme of working together is crucial as major incidents almost inevitably attract the attention of all three emergency services as well as local council’s emergency planning departments (find out about Walsall MBC’s here), so training exercises are usually a joint effort.
A Casualty Bureau activation is thankfully a rare occasion. The Riots, London Bombings and 2005 Asian Tsunami all caused activations with the latter example showing how it’s not only regional disasters that the Casualty Bureau helps out with.
As for what working in the Casualty Bureau would be like during a real incident, I can only guess. I’m assured that there will be a ready supply of cake but then I imagine this is the least I’d need to steady my nerves ahead of the first call.
Even the practice calls we took were quite intimate – taking details from someone convinced their relative may have died isn’t going to be an easy thing to do and the work in the Casualty Bureau I’m sure will be as tough as it is rewarding.
If you’d like to learn a little more about the role of the Casualty Bureau, have a look at this article from Birmingham Resilience on our own Bureau. You can find out more about emergency planning in general on the Directgov website and pick up some practical tips too.
Finally, a big thanks to Casualty Bureau managers and my trainers for the course, Lisa and Tracey, who delivered a very interesting course and continually encouraged me to ‘have another doughnut’, something that as a cop I was more than happy to do!