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Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Friday, 30 March 2012 10:03 UK

How easy is it to shut down Britain?

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There have been long queues at petrol stations this week after Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude suggested motorists should stock up on fuel in case of a tanker drivers' strike. Police and ministers spent the next 24 hours telling us not to panic - but to no avail.

In September 2000, fuel protests brought Britain to a halt and for a week, hospital wards and schools were closed, ambulances were only able to answer emergency calls in most parts of the UK and supermarket shelves stood bare.

So what is the quickest way to shut down the country?

Mike Granatt, first head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat of the Cabinet Office in 2000, told the Today programme's Evan Davis that you could start a flu pandemic, because you start to drain the country of resources.

"If you can affect mass behaviour, you can cause immense disruption," he said, adding that we live in such an interconnected society that one thing can affect another very quickly."

Rupert Goodwins, the editor of the technology website ZDnet, said that in terms of technology, electricity systems are not very well put together to resist cyber attacks.

He said "every drop of money is being squeezed" from the system, which can be affected by the internet.

Mike Granatt also commented on the differences between city and country living. "We have become less and less resilient because we rely on the systems that cities deliver... people who live in the countryside are much more self reliant."

He said that with the introduction of mobile phones we have become used to instant contact, so people get worried very quickly.


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