Not just a road closure


30 Sep 2022

Behind the scenes at an emergency planning exercise in West Sussex tunnel

Not just a road closure

It’s Thursday evening on the 29 September 2022 and the Southwick Hill Tunnel has been closed for routine maintenance work.

But something else is going on behind the scenes.

Dozens of staff and volunteers from National Highways and local emergency services took part in a planned exercise to test our joint response to a major incident.  

The drill – codenamed Operation Higgins – involved a simulated road traffic accident and an electric vehicle fire. The incident was played out as it would in real life with the tunnel closed to make it as realistic as possible.

Safety is our number one priority. Exercises like this are necessary as part of our safety and business continuity plans. We can test and rehearse what we do under close to live conditions, and other elements such as smoke detectors, alarms, evacuation and sprinkler systems, both on site and remotely. 

We also decided to conduct our exercise alongside planned maintenance work, avoiding the need for future closures and keep disruption to a minimum. 

Simulated emergency response in Southwick Tunnel
Joint responses from teams at National Highways and the Emergency Services
National Highways staff overseeing Operation Higgins

National Highways Southwick Tunnel Manager, John Nicholas said

“The A27 Southwick Tunnel live exercise is one of the many opportunities that National Highways takes to work with local emergency services, local authorities and stakeholders to test, validate and train in a controlled environment on the strategic road network.

“The planning and preparation for these events takes many hours of dedication from each participating organisation which leads to improvements in training, refinements in procedures, reprioritisation of investment works with better working knowledge and stronger working relationships for all involved.” 

For more information about road safety, please visit this page on our website.  

Special thanks go to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, East Sussex Fire & Rescue, Sussex Police, South East Coast Ambulance Service and the Environment Agency. Additional thanks to West Sussex County Council, Adur & Worthing Councils.