Ashbourne Section CROCA - Post Cold War Emergency Planning

As part of our 2005 programme, we had an interesting talk from the current Chief Emergency Planning Officer for Derbyshire, Ian Shuttleworth. He then invited us to visit the new EPHQ at County Hall Matlock as part of this year's activities, an invitation which we (and also former members of 8/20 Post Ashover) were pleased to accept.

In the Cold War days, there was an EPHQ on the north side of County Hall, in a semi-basement with a very thick outside wall and no windows (see photo). County Hall is housed in a Victorian Hydropathic Establishment (Smedley's Hydro) which never really reopened after WW2, following its being commandeered as a major training base for the Intelligence Corps. It was taken over by Derbyshire County Council as its HQ in the 1950's.

The new EPHQ is on the south side of the building and has windows ! (with views over the Derwent Valley). We were greeted by Ian and one of his Emergency Planning Officers, Helen Holmes, and given a reminder of the vast range of emergencies which the team has to deal with, including flooding, industrial accidents (eg chemical, liquid and gaseous leaks), gas explosions, major accidents etc. The most impressive feature was the vast range of information which the Department has at its fingertips and the hi-tech retrieval system via computer and interactive whiteboard.

Ian pointed out that Helen was the expert in this field and we enjoyed a demonstration of her skills, particularly the way in which she effortlessly put the interactive board through its paces. On the large board (see photo) it is possible to overlay a map of Derbyshire with whatever features are required and to zoom in on to individual streets and houses (although we were assured that it was not being used to look for possible council tax revaluations ! ). For example, in the event of flood warnings, areas at risk can be highlighted so that preventative measures can be directed correctly and efficiently. If a gas or chemical incident requires say a 200 metre exclusion zone, this can be added to the map and then a list of all the affected properties displayed. If emergency centres are required, these can be displayed alongside their capacities etc. Chemical pollution plumes can also be added - no more chinagraph pencils on to transparent plastic maps.

It is clear that Derbyshire County Council has one of the best Emergency Planning facilities in the country. My only complaint is that I live a mile over the border in Nottinghamshire ! Ian's is that although the large screens can show news bulletins, he is not given access to any sports channels !

Just along the road on the north side of County Hall is an end terrace house which now bears a blue plaque. During WW2, this was a tailor's workshop and, from 1940, housed a secret radio transmitter as part of the local Auxiliary Unit. These units were formed to act as underground resistance in the event of a German invasion. The location was chosen because the "Ground Station Zero" could be concealed by the tailor's stock and equipment and there was a handy emergency escape route out of the back and down a flight of steps. The radio operator was a teenager who still lives in Matlock. There was also a cache of small arms etc in one of the caves at Matlock Bath - if you've ever taken the cable car to the Heights of Abraham, you've probable been into the cave in question.

Jon Layne
Secretary Ashnourne Section CROCA

County Hall (North)

County Hall (South)

Emergency Planning HQ

CEPO (centre) & EPO (right)

Interactive display

Ground Station Zero


[15jul06 14:30]