TERROR ON THE TUBE; What Can Londoners Learn from New York, Which Has Already Been Equipped to Deal with an Attack on the Underground?

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

TERROR ON THE TUBE; What Can Londoners Learn from New York, Which Has Already Been Equipped to Deal with an Attack on the Underground?


BY TOM MANGOLD,AUTHOR OF PLAGUE WARS

AS London comes to terms with the threat of a terror attack, the Prime Minister has counselled that we should be vigilant on the Tube, and the emergency services and hospitals have given reassurances that the aftermath of an attack could be handled. We know we are living with a new level of threat: the difficulty lies in calculating a response that is not hysterical, but would meet any terror onslaught that uses chemical and biological weapons.

There is no hard evidence that any attack on the Tube is likely, let alone imminent - but with the UK now identified by al Qaeda as a target, it is prudent to prepare for the worst. London Underground's first stop as it reviews safety procedures should be New York.

When terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction were first taken seriously as far back as the mid-Sixties, the US Army's Special Operations Branch from Fort Detrick (home of the military's biological warfare programmes) was asked to establish the vulnerability of New York's underground railways.

The army spent four days testing the effects of a harmless anthrax simulant both from inside the tunnels and from the streets outside the stations. The results were so horrific that most remain classified after almost half a century.

Soldiers posing as passengers dropped light bulbs filled with the fake anthrax onto the tracks and measured how the bacteria would travel through the draughty tunnels. The consequences proved that an entire city could be contaminated with small amounts of bacteria. Strong wind flows and absence of natural light (which kills bacteria) are the perfect environment for the survival and distribution of most kinds of lethal bacteria and viral agents.

A mere 10 grams of dried bacteria (anthrax or tular aemia - Saddam has quantities of both) would infect hundreds of thousands of passengers in a very short time.

Those waiting on platforms or inside trains would inhale more than 10 infectious doses after just five minutes.

Because London's Tube system is deliberately designed not to be airtight, but rather to allow ventilation to and from the street, entrances to Tubes and ventilation outlets would allow the escape of airborne gases and germs.

Bugs blown out of the Underground would soon infect the city.

David Kelly, one of Britain's top biological warfare experts, doubts whether there are any effective countermeasures in the event of an attack short of spraying every inch of London's Tube system and all the stations either with formaldehyde or newly developed antibacterial foams. This would be hugely expensive and timeconsuming.

THE British military do, in fact, have standby plans for such an attack, rehearsed in great secrecy. They divide the living into three rather brutally named groups, "walkers, floppers and goners".

In the chaos, little could be done for the last two groups.

Dealing with panic in the streets and attacks on pharmacies and hospitals would soon require savage crowdby Tom Mangold control methods. A more complete strategy for response was developed in the late 1990s in New York by Jerry Hauer, the man behind New York's Office of Emergency Management. …

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