Photo Courtesy of @CoastguardTeam Twitter

Coast Guardsman Makes Safety and Preparedness His Mission – with LEGOs

Disasters Happen: Prepare Now, Learn How. National Preparedness Month 2018.

During National Preparedness Month we are featuring the heroes and heroines working to prepare people for any disaster or emergency. This week we feature “The Coast Guard Team”: a merry band of LEGOs, yes LEGOs, who travel the coast of Scotland to remind the public that “preparedness” is an everyday adventure that leads to saved lives! The force behind the “Team” is Kevin Paterson, a full-time police officer in Scotland and Station Officer in charge of the Ardrossan Coastguard Rescue Team based on the southwest coast of Scotland. His message is universal and his work on behalf of preparedness is fun, eye-catching and clever. Read on to see what motivates this “wee guys” hero to help so many.

Kevin Paterson, Creator of the Wee Coast Guard

In the UK, the coastline is guarded by more than 350 Coastguard Rescue Service teams around the coastline of dedicated search-and-rescue professionals who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to those in need.

Each team member has a full-time job and they respond to callouts via a pager and a tasking system when required for emergencies. There’s a significant amount of dedication required as there are weekly and weekend training sessions, continuous professional development of individual team members, community engagement and public relations events on top of responding operationally to callouts.

For Kevin, as the station officer, there’s further work including all the necessary administration behind the scenes, arranging training content as well as a large amount of partnership and engagement with other emergency services and partners. And that’s all before he can get anywhere near the LEGO!

So what’s with the LEGO? Well, the ‘wee guys’ officially started in October 2014 on the back of Kevin randomly buying a LEGO set earlier in the year. “I had LEGO when I was younger, but as I progressed through my teenage years my interests and focus would wander elsewhere for some time,” he explained.

“Randomly while walking through the local supermarket, I spotted some LEGO City Arctic Exploration LEGO and I picked one up just for fun,” he said. “After nearly 25 years away from LEGO, I found myself being taken back to my childhood while sitting on the floor in the living room building my new purchase. Not only did it bring back fond memories of my childhood, I also found it extremely relaxing and, within about a week or so, I had bought the entire Arctic Exploration range of sets.”

What was a random purchase quickly turned into Kevin’s way of escaping from the stresses of day-to-day life and continues to this day to have a massive positive impact on his mental wellbeing. “I hold two stressful positions and LEGO is one of my main ways of managing these stresses,” he said. “Some people meditate, some people run or go to the gym – I build.”

With a professional background in social media, Kevin began thinking of a project based on the concept of the little Arctic Exploration minifigures exploring the real world and getting up to all sorts of mischief and adventures. “While brainstorming this idea I thought it could be a useful platform for something far more important and the ‘wee guys’ in the world’s smallest Coastguard Rescue Team was created,” he said.

“LEGO seemed the obvious choice as it’s instantly recognizable, and when you combine this with the power of social media there’s literally endless potential.”

The LEGO Coastguard Rescue Team is made of up 10 LEGO minifigures supported by three senior management minifigures and a very dedicated press officer minifigure. In the real world, the team has for the best part of four years just been the one person.

Recently, however, Kevin’s partner Claire has fully embraced the LEGO lifestyle and now assists with running the team’s Instagram account and providing ideas and support for campaigns, photo ideas and all manner of LEGO related activities.

“I can’t begin to explain just how much support Claire gives not only in relation to the LEGO Coastguard Team, but also in the wider Coastguard lifestyle,” said Kevin. “I am regularly called out during the middle of the night, having to cancel date nights or other planned engagements and it’s not uncommon to be running out halfway through dinner to respond to an emergency. This never poses an issue and I will always come back from a callout, regardless of the time of the day or night, to find my dinner in the fridge or a snack let out, and a little note beside it. I genuinely couldn’t do my role with the Coastguard Rescue Service or continue to develop the LEGO Coastguard team without the support of my partner, for which I am eternally grateful.”

Claire’s father was involved in a diving incident many years ago that required a multi-agency response, and ever since then she has been fully committed to promoting the work of the Coastguard and also the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, having seen firsthand the work that takes place around the coast of the UK on daily basis.

Building a message

The mission is very simple and that’s to promote coastal and water safety to the masses in a unique and quirky way. The approach is definitely memorable and works on the basis that people will remember what they have seen, so if they find themselves in a dangerous situation or they see someone else in danger they will know what to do. A lot of Kevin’s work is proactive and geared toward avoiding people getting into difficulty in the first place, so a large amount of the ‘wee guys’ public safety announcements are based on what not to do. “This is particularly relevant as we start heading towards the winter weather again and there’s a range of key messages with regards to visiting the coast when it’s stormy, which we regularly post to warn people of the dangers,” he said.

One of the ‘wee guys’ big campaigns is also ensuring people know who to call in an emergency at the coast. Statistics revealed this year show that nearly 50 percent of people in the UK do not know whom to contact in a coastal emergency. Kevin is acutely aware of the impact a delay in the right resources being tasked to an incident can have on the overall outcome, so a big part of the messages is ensuring people know that in a coastal, beach or cliff emergency in the UK it’s always dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

“It’s our hope that parents will be sitting down with their children on their laptop, tablet or smartphone and sharing the content with them so both adults and children will be getting educated in a fun and unique way,” he said.

The ‘wee guys’ save lives

Throughout the course of the project over the past four years, there have been countless stories and messages that Kevin and Claire have received, proving their messages are having the desired impact.

Kevin told HSToday that just a week ago they were contacted via their social media feeds from a member of the public who was on the beach when an incident unfolded in which two young children were swept out to sea and were clinging to a buoy quite a distance from shore. The scene was chaotic despite being a busy beach; no one really knew what course of action to take.

Because this member of the public follows the ‘wee guys’ social media accounts, they remembered the key message of knowing whom to call and quickly dialed 999 and asked for the Coastguard. Within minutes, a Coastguard Rescue Team and a lifeboat were on scene and both children were taken to safety.

“It’s a heartwarming feeling receiving such messages as it confirms all the hard work and effort is paying off,” Kevin said. “I have said from the very start that if even one person remembers one of our posts then it’s been worthwhile. In this case, it was a successful outcome for all involved as there was no delay in the right resources being tasked and this was down purely to our messages on social media.”

So far, so good, but what’s on the horizon for the ‘wee guys’?

Kevin said that from the outset the ‘wee guys’ have continued to grow and he is constantly surprised at where this project leads as each month passes. “It has opened up a lot of opportunities and we now work in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Environment Agency (England & Wales) and also the Met Office to promote weather and flood related water safety messages as well,” he noted.

“Just this weekend, we were invited to have a big display at the Scottish International Airshow, Scotland’s biggest public event with over 100,000 people attending over the course of the weekend,” he added. “We literally spoke to tens of thousands of people about coastal and water safety, provided a range of water safety literature kindly provided by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the RNLI, and created new future partnerships work other organizations all over the backdrop of a LEGO display.”

Where the future will lead is anyone’s guess. There’s always work going on behind the scenes looking for the next opportunity. One of the best things about the team is it can respond to real-world incidents and events with custom created scenes and photos so they can be reactive with messages as well as proactive.

Inspired? We are!

The LEGO Coastguard Rescue Team are custom-made LEGO minifugres from a specialist company based in the UK, but everything else you see on the team’s social media feeds uses readily available LEGO city sets that can be picked up at any retailer or toy store. Over the past four years, the collection has expanded exponentially and there’s now a LEGO room in Kevin and Claire’s home with a full LEGO city setup as well as countless boxes full of vehicles and other sets, along with shelves all around the room packed with vehicles, buildings and minifigures.

“Having a full LEGO city setup at home and a substantial collection of LEGO city sets and vehicles collected over the past four years also means we can quickly and easily generate content in direct response to a specific type of incident or ongoing incident, such as weather-related callouts or flooding,” Kevin said. “This ability to quickly generate bespoke content means we can push out our key safety messages and public safety announcements during actual live time incidents around the country, which is immensely powerful.”

In the current global climate, it can be difficult to get messages out there and noticed. Kevin’s tip is to think outside the box and find something that stands out from the crowd and will be remembered.

“Public safety is often about the ‘what not to do’ and can become a bit repetitive, so we regularly post messages about practical steps that people can take to not only help themselves, but also help the emergency services as well,” Kevin said. “One of our most successful posts this summer was asking families visiting the beach to take a selfie with all the family as soon as they arrive. This way, if a child wanders off or gets reported missing, there’s an up-to-date photo available for the emergency services of exactly what the person looks like including what they are wearing.”

“From experience, I know this is a traumatic time for people involved and they often can’t remember key details to help with circulating a description. A quick selfie, which takes less than 10 seconds to take, makes all the difference and is a great way to help emergency responders – it also makes for a good Facebook photo for when everyone gets home.”

Passion for the subject is also essential and this is something Kevin has no shortage of. “It’s only when people are truly passionate about something that they can produce their best work, so if your workforce is promoting safety in any aspect either internally or externally, find the people with a real passion for it to be the driving force behind it,” he said.

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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