The sun is shining and the sea is calm around Sheringham Shoal wind farm. Thursday 10 September 2015 promises to be a good day for carrying out maintenance work on the wind turbines. However...

Colleagues suspect a heart attack, so he needs to be transported to the mainland as soon as possible.

Suddenly, at about 14:00, the emergency phone rings in the control centre located in the seaport town of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk.

Someone has passed out after suddenly feeling unwell while working in one of the turbines. He is complaining of chest pains. His colleagues suspect a heart attack, so he needs to be transported to the mainland as soon as possible.

In the course of a few minutes, a helicopter from Her Majesty's Coastguard and a rescue vessel are heading for the field. Meanwhile, the man's colleagues have initiated life-saving first aid at the scene.

Rapid response

This time it was just an exercise, but the scenario is real enough. With more than 30 kilometres to the mainland, rough tides, and maintenance tasks that need to be done in the confined space of the turbine towers 80 metres above sea level, rescuing someone after an accident or acute illness poses a demanding challenge. That is precisely why it is so important to hold regular exercises.

"The purpose of the exercise was to test our systems and procedures for rescue operations," says Adam Blake, maintenance manager at Sheringham Shoal, adding that the exercise went more or less according to plan.

"The only deviation was that the rescue helicopter had to leave the exercise to attend to a real-life rescue operation elsewhere, so we had to carry out our evacuation a little differently than planned."

Map location of Sheringham ShoalSHERINGHAM SHOAL

> Statkraft took over operation and maintenance of the wind farm on 1 January 2014.

> Located around 20 kilometres off the coast of Norfolk, England.

> The wind farm consists of 88 wind turbines and covers an area of 35 square kilometres.

> Annual production is 1.1 TWh.

> The turbine towers measure 80 metres in height and the turbine blades are 52 metres long.

> The wind farm has a cooperation agreement with both the helicopter rescue service in Her Majesty's Coastguard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Highly trained employees

Sheringham Shoal cooperates with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). A vessel was sent from Cromer Lifeboat Station during the operation. The journey by sea to the wind farm takes around 40 minutes.

Time is always a critical factor in incidents involving a serious accident or sudden illness. Adam Blake explains that because of the demanding conditions and the distance to land, the maintenance teams have been given extra training in life-saving first aid.

The Emergency Response Team, which is based on the mainland, coordinates the rescue operation and maintains contact with the personnel out at the wind farm and on the rescue vessels.

Good cooperation

Adam Blake is extremely pleased with the way the exercise was carried out.

"Our cooperation with the RNLI and the coastguard was excellent," he says. "It's good to know that our plans for managing emergency situations like this work, and that we can quickly get help when people fall ill or sustain injuries."

More than 50 people were involved in planning and conducting the exercise.

"We hold emergency exercises regularly and have trained for a range of different scenarios," says Blake. "We will continue to do that so that we are prepared no matter what happens."

Text: Morten Ryen
Photo: Alan O'Neill
The article is also published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 3/2015 

Transferring between boat and wind mill is a difficult task. That is why maintenance work is only permitted on the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind park when the wave height is low. Security is everything.