Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Massive Terror Test for London; Exercise to Check Whether City Can Cope

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Massive Terror Test for London; Exercise to Check Whether City Can Cope

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES REISS;DAVID TAYLOR

A SIMULATED terror attack on central London is to be staged within weeks as part of a massive reshaping of Britain's defences.

Police, hospitals, the fire service and local authorities will all take part in the exercise designed to ensure that London is as ready as it can possibly be for a catastrophe on the scale of September 11.

The move was announced in the Commons today by Home Secretary David Blunkett as he outlined latest preparations against "home defence risks". He also revealed that thousands of troops will stand ready to be deployed on the streets of Britain to deal with a potentially "catastrophic" terrorist attack involving deliberate release of a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon.

The announcement comes as Parliament is being asked to renew emergency detention powers brought in after the terror attacks on New York. But the timing, as Britain stands on the brink of war with Iraq, underlines the domestic risk that war in the Middle East could pose in the form of a terrorist backlash.

It was confirmed that the major exercise will simulate a September 11-style disaster in the heart of the capital, and sources said it would be staged before Easter.

Mr Blunkett also told for the first time how a network of 14 Civil Contingency Reaction Forces, each made up of 500 Territorial Army volunteers, was being put in place to support emergency services in the event of a terror attack on an unprecedented scale. The units are being assembled now and all will be in place by the end of this year. They could be called out at the request of the area's chief constable, if it was judged that a terrorism disaster was so serious that police and other emergency services were unable to cope. Their duties would include securing a cordon around a "Ground Zero" disaster zone.

London's simulated exercise will put to the test the 11 "key capabilities" which the Home Office says must be in place to respond to the most demanding emergencies. They include the ability to maintain essential services such as transport and communication links, power supplies and the technical backup to keep the City of London functioning.

The exercise will also test London's capability for decontamination, mass evacuation and the treatment of mass casualties and fatalities in the event of a deliberate biological, nuclear or chemical attack.

Although much of the work will be a " tabletop exercise", there will also be a dramatic live simulation, which will certainly include the creation of the mock "Ground Zero".

Home Office sources said that the planning is going on across Whitehall departments and precise details and timing will be kept under wraps because there needs to be an element of surprise for the key players with duties around the "disaster". …

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