Muted cries for help can be heard on the bremenports site at Brinkamahof on Saturday, 8 October. They are coming from a car wreck. A woman is trapped inside. A young man in a neon yellow jacket with the letters THW is talking to her. She will soon be rescued from the car. bremenports and THW, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, had deposited various small cars around the site here the previous day as part of a disaster management exercise, or to be more precise: as part of the first disaster simulation exercise of this scale ever to take place in Bremerhaven. More than 100 vehicles, 20 boats and more than 450 helpers are involved.

The weather is sunny but chilly this October morning. The 50 accident “victims” who have volunteered to take part and make the whole thing look authentic can feel the cold creeping through their clothes as they wait for help. Carefully made up to look like injury victims by Sybille Jahn from the German Red Cross, they are distributed all over the Brinkamahof site. They have been given injuries of all kinds: black eyes, grazes and blood. One man limps convincingly, hanging on to his leg from which a piece of timber appears to be protruding.  A rather confused elderly gent with grey hair and a leather jacket shuffles gloomily back and forth between the high piles of rubber fenders: “I am looking for my brother,” he says again and again. The whole scene is convincingly authentic – and it is meant to be, so that the emergency services can practise under real scenario conditions.


A few yards further on, Jochen Soot from THW lowers the hand holding the walkie-talkie when the mobile  in his other hand rings. The head of the THW task force has just issued the radio alarm for the scenario, timed at 9:00 hours. The first questions are already starting to come in. The scenario: the fictional Bremenports City peninsula in Brinkamahof has been hit by a severe storm, or “extreme weather situation” as they say in professional jargon. There are casualties, places on fire and countless people trapped inside cars and buildings. The emergency services now have to attend to the victims and take them to safety as quickly as possible. But it is not that easy …

In the meantime, Cord Schwoge from the bremenports port maintenance department is doing things that he would definitely not be doing under normal circumstances: he sets fire to a pile of wood to create additional clouds of smoke. A top-up for the flames arrives by wheelbarrow from the post building, which also serves as the briefing and debriefing centre and provides the catering for the participants.


09:30 hours. The first THW vehicles come to a halt on the Columbus peninsula on the other side of the river. Nobody can get any further because the “Columbus hopper”, the ferry that normally links both sides, is not included in the exercise. Land vehicles cannot get anywhere now and this takes the emergency services by surprise. It is now up to DLRG, the German Lifeguard Association, to find boats that will take the task force onto the peninsula to rescue people. A naval helicopter flies in rescue workers from THW, the Red Cross and JUH, the St. John’s Ambulance Association. They land on Brückenstrasse, right in front of the Brinkamahof site.

It now becomes apparent just how many different players are involved in today’s exercise. DLRG, THW, the fire brigade, bremenports, the Order of Malta relief service, St. John’s Accident Assistance, Bremerhaven waste disposal company EBB, the German Red CrossBremerhaven local police, the river police and the Bremerhaven search and  rescue dog team all add up to 450 helpers on duty at 19 difference scenarios, some of which take place simultaneously.

Patrick Neubauer from the dredging division keeps a critical eye on the water areas in the port. The rescue services boats sailing back and forth all over the harbour are tiny compared to professional shipping vessels and run the risk of colliding with the “big guys”. That is one of the reasons why Neubauer is in constant contact with the central control facility of Kaiserschleuse lock and the commanders of the different task forces.


Three points have been set up in the modern building and in the yard where helpers can practise filling sandbags. Stephan Rademacher and Rene Warkus from bremenports use a steel funnel to fill the sandbags. There are also telescopic handlers and forklifts in use. At the next station, two dozen workers from Bremerhaven’s waste disposal company EBB are being shown how to do it. Outside, a group of people are gathered around an EBB vehicle. Originally used as a gritter, it has been converted into a sandbag vehicle inclusive of chute. This was the brainchild of Wolfgang Juschkat, head of the Road Cleaning and Winter Services department at EBB. “This is really a method for emptying the grit container, but we also designed and installed a chute,” says Juschkat. “By adjusting the conveyor belt speed, it can easily be used for filling sand into the sandbags.” Employees are standing at the end of the vehicle on either side. When one sandbag is full, an empty replacement appears immediately. “One advantage is that it makes you more mobile. You can drive straight to wherever the sandbags are needed.”

15:00 hours. The sandbags are ready for use at the pump station in Markfleth. Task force head Morten Fischer makes the final radio announcements. After the human chain to the boat, which consisted of EBB, THW and DLRG teams, another human chain of THW and DLRG members carries the sandbags up the embankment. A shuttle service of boats and crews brings more supplies from the other side of the river. One helper asks what will happen to the sandbags after the exercise. “The sandbags beside the pavement will be collected by EBB volunteers this evening,” says Morten Fischer. The helpers breathe a sigh of relief. Each sandbag weights around 10 kilos, which means that the many helping hands have already moved a few tons of sand alone today. But the effort paid off in the end. Because, according to the first debriefing on Tuesday, disaster management in Bremerhaven is in a good position to cope if the worst comes to the worst.

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