As I have already noted, one of the most amazing parts of the whole experience was just how co-ordinated the emergency response was. As soon as we had established the condition of students in each of the seven hospitals I endeavoured to speak with each of the representatives from the emergency response teams: Red Cross, Police, Coastguard, Public Health, Youth Hostel and so on. In doing this I was able to work out what their remit was and therefore know which aspects of our case were being dealt with effectively. On the first night for example it was clear that our immediate medical needs were being addressed and that the physical needs of food and shelter for the well students were also covered. I was also able to establish that nobody would be checking on the status of students in hospital and of course no-one would be contacting school. We were therefore able to access the hostel’s phones and focus on these tasks, allowing the emergency services to deal with the rest. By midnight we had therefore communicated the situation clearly back to school.
On the Tuesday, further support was provided by the local police to coordinate returning students to the hostel and booking well students a crossing back to the UK with P&O. Again, this freed up time for staff to see to students’ more immediate needs such as eating breakfast and lunch and getting clothing and other items for them. It also gave us an opportunity to check all students still had their passports and other key documents.
School were of course vital in supporting us. When we lost two members of staff the previous night I requested and was given two support staff who came from England overnight to join us on the Monday. They also brought a car which was extremely helpful in visiting the students. Again, the choice seemed somewhat overkill at 7pm on Monday but by Tuesday morning I was extremely glad of the extra support.
The one recurring question I was asked by the emergency staff throughout was what I wanted to happen. We decided early on, after discussions with school, that our main aim was to get students home as soon as possible, as long as this was safe and in their best interests. Therefore, the decisions made by the emergency services helped us to achieve this long term goal. It is well worth considering what your long term goals are for a situation early-on, as this will determine many of your options. One example is that the coach company offered to drive us to a second crossing at Calais. However, as I was not convinced the driver was fit or safe to drive, I opted to spend the night in Belgium. As it turns out, the Calais crossing would have denied us access anyway, but here my overarching imperative for student safety and welfare overrode the possibility of getting them home sooner. It was, in hindsight, the correct call.