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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK
England 'not ready' for terrorism
Policeman in gas masks
Training: Question marks over preparedness
Half of all councils in England have no evacuation plans to deal with a major terrorist attack, the BBC has learned.

About 77% of authorities and 70% of police forces have no plans for dealing with people contaminated by chemical attack.

And only one of 28 health authorities has told the government it would be ready to tackle mass casualties.

The government has confirmed to the BBC it carried out a survey to determine readiness for such an attack in October 2003, the first time since World War II.

Terrorism preparedness

This week, the government updated its report on terrorism preparedness and said the UK now had a "well-developed structure for emergency planning across the country with police, fire and ambulance services working together".

ScotlandNorthern IrelandNorth EastYorks and HumberNorth WestWest MidlandsEast MidlandsWalesEastSouth EastSouth WestLondon
It said the NHS had received 85m to train for bio-terrorism and a further 56m had gone on decontamination equipment and training for fire services.

The BBC has obtained the results of an October 2003 survey into preparedness around the UK.

Just over half of the "upper tier" (most important) local authorities, responsible for tackling emergencies, said they did not have mass evacuation plans.

A quarter were working on them, but said they did not know when they would be ready.

Some 77% of upper tier authorities and 70% of police forces said they did not have plans on how to decontaminate members of the public in the event of a mass evacuation.

Nine out of 10 police forces, fire services and local authorities had no plans to deal with contaminated buildings.

More than half of authorities had not worked out how to dispose of contaminated debris, such as from destroyed buildings, in the event of an attack involving chemical, biological or radiological devices.

Four out of 10 councils admit they would not be able to cope with evacuations of more than 1,000 homes.

Only four out of 10 police forces had trained all the officers they said they needed for emergency terrorism response teams - and less than half had taken part in live drills for chemical, biological or radiological attack.

Health authorities

Among the 28 strategic health authorities, only one said it was fully prepared for mass casualties. Of the others, 22 said they were almost ready and four said they were far less ready. One did not respond to the survey.

The NHS uses a "traffic lights" system to assess readiness for mass casualties among strategic health authorities
GREEN: One authority ready
AMBER/GREEN: 22 partially ready
AMBER/RED: Four not very ready
One authority did not reply

In a statement, the Cabinet Office confirmed the survey had taken place and its results had influenced subsequent work.

"Over the past two years, the Capabilities Programme, led by the Cabinet Office, has developed preparedness across the UK to deal with emergencies," said the spokesman.

"That work is based on reviews of levels of resilience across the UK so that we can target capabilities and infrastructure to the risks we face.

"It would wrong to comment on the results of [the 2003] assessment.

"Doing so could provide information useful to those who wish to damage UK interests."

Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, warned last year there was "no prospect" of a reduction in the threat from Islamist terrorism over the next five years.

In March, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said an attack on London was "inevitable".

Mike Granatt, former head of the Cabinet Office's Civil Contingencies Secretariat, told the BBC the government needed to improve preparedness.

"If these shortfalls are occurring in major urban areas where the density of population means a major incident could cause mass casualties, that would be very disturbing and that's the question to ask now: Where are these shortfalls?" he said.

"Is it disturbing? Of course it's worrying. I don't think it's of immediate worry. But we should be looking in the next few years at a very much better set of results than we have here.

"One hopes this document, these results, are going to help them set these priorities very quickly and that the public will be reassured quickly that they're being dealt with."

The BBC's Mark Easton
"London is understood to be relatively well prepared but it is a different story in the regions"

Terror advice pamphlet unveiled
26 Jul 04  |  Politics
Mass evacuation plan for London
14 May 04  |  Politics


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