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Britain to Test Terror Attack Readiness - 2003-03-03

Britain says it soon plans to carry out a full-scale exercise in London to test its preparation for a terror attack.

Addressing the House of Commons, British Home Secretary David Blunkett said the exercise would test the ability of London's police, fire and ambulance services to evacuate and treat victims of a terrorist attack. He said reserve armed forces can also be deployed to help police and civil authorities in the event of a terrorist attack.

"It will be necessary to undertake exercises that enable us to be better prepared to test out the preparations that have already been put in place, and to be honest about whether those preparations are adequate," Mr. Blunkett said. "We will, over the weeks ahead, be putting into place such an exercise here in London to make sure we are satisfied, and that we can satisfy this House [of Commons] and the public, that we are as prepared as it is possible to be in the real world for any such internal attack, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks," he said.

On Monday, workers in emergency service teams were taught how a decontamination unit would deal with the aftermath of a so-called "dirty bomb" attack, involving conventional explosives containing nuclear material.

Prime Minister Tony Blair warned last month that terrorist organizations like al-Qaida may try to attack Britain in retaliation for its staunch support of the United States. He said he receives almost daily intelligence reports about threats to British interests. Government officials have said privately it is probably only a matter of time until militants strike somewhere in Britain.

Mr. Blunkett also took the opportunity to dismiss a remark by a government adviser, who claimed Britain was ill-prepared to deal with a smallpox attack. The home secretary argued that adequate amounts of vaccine have been stocked.

"There has been an excess of 30 million pounds [$50 million] spent so far in terms of acquiring the necessary vaccines. Over 20 million doses exist in reserve. Based on historic information, well over 50 percent of the population are already vaccinated against smallpox," he explained.

In addition to the anti-terrorist exercise in London, Britain is taking other steps to tighten its security. Parliament is about to consider extending anti-terrorism legislation, due to expire next week, that allows the government to detain foreign nationals for security purposes. A new anti-terrorism Web site is also being launched to provide information to the public about what precautions it can take to help in the fight against terrorism.