From the Thames Valley to the south-west tip of Cornwall, Army Reserve Signallers from Bristol have been playing a vital communications role in support of the multi-agency response to the floods crisis.
The men and women of 39 Signal Regiment are trained to respond to natural disasters and major incidents such as terrorist attacks.
It was no surprise that, as the current emergency unfolded, they would be mobilised in their role as High Readiness Reserves (HRR).
While some of the Bristol Reservists headed off to key areas such as the Somerset Levels, the main responsibility was to set up a regional command centre at their Horfield base. Since early this month, this has maintained communications in support of the Army, police, Environment Agency, ambulance and other agencies on the ground.
Sergeant Cassie Downs, of Stockwood, a 33-year-old with service in Iraq and Afghanistan, received just four hours’ notice of call-up.
Given immediate leave by her very supportive employer – she works in the credit and billing department at ALD Automotive, Fishponds – Cassie promptly found herself committed to a working day at the command centre that invariably stretches to 18 or 19 hours.
The demands are constant and varied – anything from providing IT support or mobile phone contact in remote areas to setting up an important video conference. “All the time, it’s a matter of making speedy decisions or ensuring that someone takes responsibility for a particular issue,” she said.
“It’s a long day – I sleep here as there’s no time to go home,” she added.
“But this type of emergency is what we train for throughout our Reservist careers. We are dedicated to the work. And when there is an opportunity to demonstrate how well we do the job, it makes all the effort worthwhile.”
Sergeant Herbie Hyde, a 41-year-old health and safety consultant with HM Bristol Ltd, helped set up the communications centre at the start of the month and was then based at the Taunton emergency flood headquarters before returning to Horfield.
Herbie, also a veteran of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, added: “Until the crisis spread into the Thames Valley and further east, there was a period when our centre covered the whole of the south of England. It’s been hard work. But no more than we would expect in what is probably the biggest peacetime emergency in the UK since the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001.”
Under proposals announced last July by The Secretary of State for Defence, the Territorial Army was renamed the Army Reserve. With £1.8bn investment in better training and better equipment, it is planned to expand to 30,000 trained reservists by 2018.
Enhanced conditions for reservists include the introduction of paid annual leave and pension entitlements during training and operations, plus better access to defence health services and training. Employers will be given £500 per month per reservist when mobilised, in addition to existing help such as with the cost of advertising for replacements.
39 Signal Regiment is keen to attract new recruits. For more information call 01985 223720 or to find out about opportunities in the Army Reserve visit