Due to the size of the Environment Agency we offer assistance to colleagues across the country in times of crisis with staff often travelling miles to help. I'm normally based in Ely, but recently travelled to Somerset to provide 'mutual aid' during the flooding.
I felt I could volunteer my time because of the support I have from my manager. I knew I could leave my own team in their safe hands for a week or so. Mutual aid means that I am still working, doing the same sort of job that I do daily – just in a different area. So if my home team needed any help they could speak to someone locally, or could still contact me if they wanted to.
When I arrived in the South West I soon realised just how bad the situation was. Walking a day in my colleague's shoes was a real eye opener- this was so much more than the 'day job'. I was pleased to have the opportunity to help both them and the local community.
Although we do similar jobs across the country, there are local peculiarities and ways of working which take time to learn. The over arching principles of the role are the same, but as with anywhere different areas work in slightly different ways, and it can be challenging slotting into an established team.
I spent my week tackling a variety of challenging tasks from identifying and managing flood risk at pumping stations to preparing evacuation plans should those pumping stations get flooded out. Protecting people, property and assets is our priority. I was asked to help identify other areas at risk and staffing needs – where could partner organisations help us out? As well as tackle refuelling problems brought on by increased water levels.
I spent time at Burrowbridge Saltmoor pumping station, the Taunton Office and North Moorlands pumping station. Getting from A to B was tricky, everywhere was muddy and it took twice as long to do even the simplest of tasks. But whilst out and about I did meet many of the locals. It was amazing how supportive the majority of them were, this was really impressive when you consider the circumstances they were coping with.
Staff are asked to volunteer to help give mutual aid to other areas. It’s not easy to just leave your daily routine and I did rely on my wife and friends to help out. I was away for about a month which meant a lot of rearranging and added pressure for my family. I missed them all very much, particularly when returning to a table for one and a hotel room after a long and challenging day, but that was more than a lot of local people had. I felt lucky that I was able to offer the support. It was difficult - not knowing what would be asked of me each day, but along with many other people, where we can, we offer help, because that's what we do.
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