Britain To Test Emergency Services With Mock Attack

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - In another move to shore up Britain's anti-terror defenses, authorities will stage a mock terror attack in London within the next several weeks, officials have said.

The U.K. government also announced the creation of a new website to advise members of the public in the event of a terror attack.

In a written statement to Parliament on Monday, Home Secretary David Blunkett said the London exercise, to be held on an unspecified date, will test the abilities of the local emergency services to control a mass evacuation and decontaminate the affected area.

The Home Office would not give further details about the exercise, but The Times newspaper reported Tuesday that the exercise would simulate a chemical weapons attack on a subway station in London's financial district on March 23.

In July of last year, the House of Commons defense committee said in a report that Britain's emergency services wouldn't be able to cope with a terror attack on the scale of Sept. 11.

The committee pointed out equipment and communications shortcomings, recommended the formation of a national counter-terrorism agency and suggested security reviews for nuclear power plants and seaports.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that improvements have been made "both nationally and regionally" to emergency response services.

The government also plans to test reactions to other potential infrastructure attacks.

"Under this new programme of coordinated exercises it will be possible to test whether all key stakeholders are appropriately engaged and working together," Blunkett said.

"Future planned exercises will cover a catastrophic incident in central London - this exercise will take place shortly - disruption to the national gas supply and flood defences."

Blunkett said the website, which is not yet "live," would address public concerns about terrorism.

"I am committed to putting as much information as I can in the public domain, without compromising security," he said. "As we have always made clear, if there is ever a need to issue a specific warning about any venue, or specific advice, the government and police will do so without hesitation."

Last month the government deployed troops to Heathrow Airport in London due to widely reported - but not officially acknowledged - fears of a surface-to-air missile attack. That threat never materialized and the security presence at the airport has been scaled back.

The website plan was received with skepticism by opposition political parties. Evan Harris, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that in a real emergency, internet-based information services could easily be overwhelmed.

Harris called for paper copies of terrorism advice to be distributed to doctors and the general public.

"In the event of a chemical, biological or radiological incident, it is unlikely that ... government websites will be enough to cope with the surge in demand for information," he said.

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