BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 16:16 GMT
'We're not ready,' say disaster crews
Ruins of World Trade Center
Some fear another '9/11' in the UK
As troops patrol Heathrow Airport, emergency planners accuse central government of being complacent, secretive and out of touch when it comes to the terrorist threat.


At a hospital in Northallerton, Yorkshire, staff are erecting a brand new decontamination unit.

There is much hunting for sockets, leads and a pump.

Once up, it looks like a small bouncy castle. But in a chemical or biological disaster, its shower units and scrubbing equipment could save lives - if they work.

As doctors and nurses watch, bemused, Bill Johnson of the ambulance service struggles to get the water flowing.

Emergencies and disasters are blipping away on the government's radar screen and something has to be done

Professor David Alexander, Royal Military College of Science
"We've got some adjustments to make to the water pressure to make sure we get the correct flow," he says.

In this area, they have also been sent dozens of protective suits for the emergency crews. But there is a problem.

Funding sought

"When some of the operatives were actually wearing the suits, water got into the foot area. We decided not to use these particular suits until modifications were made."

In London, the situation appears even worse.

Anne Gallop, of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, says the fireman are no better protected than they were 17 months ago, on 11 September 2001.

"We have no new equipment. We cannot go out and buy new equipment until or unless we have some guarantee that the money to purchase it is going to be forthcoming."

Disaster exercise 'muddled'

No minister would be interviewed on the delays but File on 4 has learned that the government is pledging 1,000 extra protective suits nationally and 280 decontamination units.

The first equipment for London is not expected until March.

The outcome of a national disaster exercise is no more reassuring.

It was on the coast of Essex last year that planners rehearsed the crash of a big jet into a nuclear reactor at Bradwell-on-sea.

Essex Emergency Planning Chief, Peter Pearson
Peter Pearson fears emergency resources are inadequate
An official report afterwards revealed evidence of muddling, missing telephones and slowness in tracking a giant and potentially deadly radiation cloud.

It came as a shock to Essex Emergency Planning Chief, Peter Pearson.

"We had never, in any of the planning assumptions, been led to believe that the implications at a power station would be so wide-spread," he said.

"Basically, we need more resources to run a much wider range of exercises, to train more people and to have more capacity to deal with larger numbers of casualties."

That would mean large-scale nuclear disaster exercises around more than three dozen reactors in Britain.

'Not top priority'

File On 4 has learned a review is going on but Energy Minister Brian Wilson is cautious on the outcome.

He said: "I'm not saying that we don't need more exercises covering a wider area.

"All I'm saying is it's not something people have been clamouring for or that my own advisors feel is their top priority."

Last July the Commons Defence Committee slated the government's record on emergency planning since 9/11.

MPs spoke of a "lack of grip".

Professor David Alexander, a disaster expert at the Royal Military College of Science, said the government's performance was still a cause for concern.

"There's no doubt whatsoever that 11 September was a wake-up call for the emergency services. Since then, I don't think progress has been rapid enough.

"Emergencies and disasters are blipping away on the government's radar screen and something has to be done."

This edition of File On 4 was on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 18 February at 2000 GMT.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Julian O'Halloran
"The Commons Defence Committee slated the government's record on emergency planning"

Click here to visit the File on 4 website
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes