Fire crews in earthquake simulation
Fire and rescue crews from across Europe and the Middle East are taking part in a major exercise simulating an earthquake hitting a fictional UK town.
The event, one of the largest to have been undertaken, is aimed at testing the response of the emergency services from the UK and seven other countries to an "unthinkable" disaster.
Funded through a one million euro grant from the European Union (EU), Exercise Orion is being held simultaneously in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and Merseyside.
The three-day exercise will simulate emergency services coming to the aid of up to 600 casualties in the fictional town of Widley.
The disaster is so severe that the British emergency services are overwhelmed and the Cabinet Office issues an appeal for help from the EU.
Countries coming to the aid of the UK include, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden as well as an urban search and rescue team from the United Arab Emirates.
The disaster scene created at Fort Widley, near Portsmouth, includes collapsed apartment blocks, a motorway bridge and an oil storage plant.
On Merseyside, the exercise will focus on the impact of the earthquake on the Birkenhead tunnel.
Group manager Pete Crook, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Exercise Orion is deliberately being organised to challenge all teams to the limit and that is why we have chosen the unlikely scenario of an earthquake, because the UK is not accustomed to such incidents and it is therefore outside all normal planning assumptions.
"Some of the participants will have experienced first-hand the devastation caused by an earthquake having responded to Haiti or Indonesia last year and seen how easy it is for local emergency services to become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the situation they face."