SOLFIRE Presentation given to the Council

Posted on 21 Mar 2006

At March’s Council meeting, members had the rare opportunity to hear from two of the busiest men in the Solent. Commander Kendall Carter, Royal Navy, Portsmouth Queens Harbour Master and Captain Steven Young Harbour Master of Southamton Port. Between them they control all activities military and commercial from the Nab Tower east of the Isle of Wight, through the Solent, and Southampton Water to Southampton Docks, including the approaches to and waters of Portsmouth Harbour.

Commander Carter and Captain Young gave a joint presentation on emergency planning for the Solent and then answered questions on a whole range of topics about the Solent.

They explained that ability to control shipping effectively in the Solent started nearly fifty years ago with the installation in 1958 of radar at Calshott, which enabled Southampton to extend their real time monitoring of port waters. Radar at Fort Gillkicker and Fort Blockhouse similarly allowed QHM to improve coverage for the approaches to Portsmouth.

Emergency planning started to develop from 1959 onwards when both port authorities wrote an emergency plan combining command and control in a jointly issued plan Solfire. From then it has been steadily developed to include all emergency services afloat and ashore, military, commercial, Local, County and National Authorities. In 1994 Solfire became a tripartite plan issued by the Queens Harbour Master, Harbour Master Southampton and Her Majesty’s Coastguard.

Solfire was the first attempt by any port authority nationally to coordinate assets and command. It has continued to lead in its organisation and innovation ever since. It is exercised annually using a variety of scenarios, involving every emergency service in the area of the Solent, land and sea. Lessons learned are used to update the plan. Anti terrorism has been a recent priority.

In year 2000, to improve compatibility QHM and the Harbour Master Southampton formally agreed to fit the same type and make of equipment at their individual vessel traffic control centres thus being able to link radar data automatically. Each authority now has a comprehensive picture using every radar source installed in both port areas.

Solfire covers every emergency and any duty officer of the tripartite group can initiate the plan. All three authorities have comprehensive duty organisations giving twenty-four hours a day cover throughout the year.

Report by M. Rhodes, Esq., OBE