REACT supports Operation Foster after unexploded bomb discovery

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Posted by Laura Butlin 28th February 2024 News Stories

Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins

A 500kg bomb discovered in the back garden of a residential property in Plymouth prompted one of the largest UK evacuation operations since the end of the Second World War. REACT Responders deployed swiftly to support the evacuation and welfare of more than 10,000 from the affected area before the device was carefully removed by bomb disposal experts from the British Army and Royal Navy. The munition, identified as an air-dropped German bomb from World War Two – designated SC-500 – was assessed as posing a 'significant risk to public safety', prompting the evacuation of residents within a radius of around 300 metres.

REACT Responders were put on standby when a major incident was declared by Plymouth City Council on Tuesday 20th February. A support request was issued by the Council the next day and Responders deployed to Home Park Stadium for 07:00 the following morning, to help with the evacuation of residents in the affected area. Known as Operation Foster, the collective response was a testament to the collaboration between local emergency services including Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, Devon and Cornwall Police and the Coastguard, and members of the Armed Forces. Together, they successfully navigated a major operation to safely evacuate residents from the vicinity of where the bomb was found, and then from the surrounding area of the route it was transported along before it was taken out to sea to be detonated.

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Responders worked alongside other volunteer organisations to inform residents about the evacuation

Community evacuation

Teams deployed alongside Cornwall and Devon 4x4, Multiple Mountain Search and Rescue teams and HM Coastguard to carry out door-to-door checks in Keyham, to inform people living in the cordon area about the evacuation and to identify any households that might need additional support with relocating. 


REACT Team Leader Alan Crocker and Responder Rich McSweeney ready to help people arriving at the Rest Centre

Rest Centre support

By midday on Thursday, REACT had received a second call for support from the British Red Cross, to provide help with the Rest Centre that had been set up at nearby The Life Centre. Rest Centres are open 24/7 and are a holding area for people who have left their homes and are waiting to find accommodation elsewhere, be it friends and family, a hotel or a bed and breakfast. Responders stepped up to support and help people needing access to support, including psychosocial care, hygiene supplies and somewhere to sleep if needed.

Agility in response 

On Friday morning, a request was received to provide help with the extension of the cordon, which affected homes along the route the bomb was due to take, as they transported it to sea where it would be safely detonated. REACT was able to support this request, by splitting on-scene Responders into two teams, deploying some to help with the additional evacuations, whilst a second team remained to support the Rest Centre. By 14:00 the area along the planned route had been cleared and at 18:00, residents were given the all-clear to return to their homes.

Responders supported the care and return of vulnerable people to their homes and helped with the clearance of equipment and fittings from the Rest Centre, before standing-down.

Operation Foster has since been hailed as a great success, with Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth, Moor View, who is also the Veterans’ Affairs minister, writing on social media: “A huge thank you and massive respect to all the Police, coastguard, military, mountain rescue, Plymouth City Council staff and multiple volunteers who have worked around the clock to deal with this bomb in Keyham."

Chief Executive of Plymouth City Council, Tracey Leigh said "I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everybody who is part of REACT. You have done a sterling job of helping to support everybody in Keyham and I just can't thank you enough. Thank you so much."

The final word goes to Alan Crocker, REACT's Team Leader for the response. "We feel incredibly privileged to have helped facilitate the safe evacuation of those affected by the UXO in Keyham. This rapid-response operation showcased the dedication and expertise of our volunteer Responders, with 22 individuals stepping forward to offer their assistance at short notice. Throughout our deployment, they worked hand in hand with partners and fellow volunteers, transitioning quickly and professionally from the residential evacuation phase to supporting the transport corridor evacuation. In the midst of this, Responders laboured tirelessly through the day and night, providing essential support alongside Plymouth City Council and The British Red Cross to ensure the well-being and reassurance of residents seeking refuge at the community Rest Centre. I am immensely proud of our Responders, who selflessly put their own lives on hold to stand by the Keyham community in their time of need. Our collective efforts were a crucial part of a coordinated response that offered vital aid during a challenging period. I extend heartfelt gratitude to Plymouth City Council and The British Red Cross for their unwavering support and partnership throughout this emergency."

Total number of Responders Deployed: 20

Total Hours on Task: 160 hours