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null Launching with a Splash – EA’s successful WaterCoach exercise

Launching with a Splash – EA’s successful WaterCoach exercise

On Monday 22nd February 2021, 40 staff from across the Environment Agency’s forecasting community took part in Exercise Splash in preparation for the launch of their new Incident Management Forecasting System (IMFS), which is based on Delft-FEWS. This was the first ever nationally run live play exercise involving MFDOs (Monitoring and Forecasting Duty Officers) and the FFC (Flood Forecasting Centre) using a real life flood event scenario and WaterCoach script in the new forecasting system. Simone De Kleermaeker interviewed Emma Ferguson, senior advisor, Incident management and Resilience, IMFS Delivery Team of the UK Environment Agency.

How did Exercise Splash go? 

The Exercise overall went very well – we achieved our objectives, despite facing some challenges with file access first thing in the morning (outside of our Delft-FEWS environment). It demonstrated how useful the WaterCoach functionality is in simulating forecasting activities in a safe environment, allowing MFDOs to practice their role and improve their skills and knowledge of the new system.

Players gave the exercise a rating overall of 3.75 out of 5. A large number of participants also said how good, immersive and realistic the exercise was and how more practice and exercises would be valuable going forwards. We also received great feedback on how we can improve our Delft-FEWS system and displays more and make even better exercises in future

What were the learning objectives?

  • MFDOs and FFC can effectively use IMFS to interpret and communicate the Operational (OP), Best Estimate (BE) and Reasonable Worst Case (RWC) forecasts for a more routine flood event.
  • IMFS and the changes to the hydromet services and ways of working are ready for launch.
  • The WaterCoach functionality in IMFS can be effectively used for national exercises by IM&R teams for future training and exercises.

How did the WaterCoach support you to reach the learning objectives?

WaterCoach gave us the ability to replicate a real life flood event in real time using new functionality and products. It enabled the MFDOs to practice using the system in a way that felt real and to interpret all the data available to provide their service as they would in a real event. The script also allowed us to provide tips/guidance/reminders to players on the actions they needed to undertake.

How did you prepare?

Data for the event

We identified a recent routine flood event (just reflecting on our experience of events from the last couple of years) and got the relevant IMFS Archived raw data together for that event to generate scenarios and workflows (Marc did a lot of this on our behalf). This took a fair amount of time and effort.

Exercise logistics

We've used pre-exiting exercise templates and virtual interactive tools that people were already familiar with, which speeded up the document preparation time – so this side probably took less time/effort than gathering the data and script but there was still a lot to prepare particularly when using a national exercises with players from different parts of the country requiring slightly different information.

It was helpful that all MFDOs were trained on WaterCoach before, as part of their main IMFS training (and we had created and included some other mini WaterCoach scripts for them to run through as part of their post course work) so the users were already familiar with WaterCoach and the set up process.

Training the trainer

The WaterCoach training 2 years ago gave us the appreciation of what could be done using WaterCoach and showed that once you have planned what you want to do and got the relevant data, then writing the script for the exercise is pretty easy. All this information can be found on the wiki as well, which was really useful.

Issues

Because this was the first time we’d ever tried anything like this, we had some initial teething issues to overcome with the data/file storage/file sharing/network access etc. Next time will likely be a smoother experience.

Once we had the correct data, we found the workflows took a long time to run through the system, but the scenarios and script were easy/quick to put together.

On the morning of the exercise we had some file access issues internally, and some individual set up issues which took a little while to overcome at the last minute. Despite this, it still felt like it was really worthwhile doing and something that we would like to run more often in future.

What’s next?

We do plan to run exercises like this again but haven’t finalized our exact plans. Initially, I think we will just use the mini single player exercises we already have as refreshers and will probably run Exercise Splash again with different players.

In future, I hope/expect that we will use flagged archived events to create other exercises, perhaps using more complex/severe events and coastal data and inviting more players.