Despite warnings that a major terrorist attack in Britain is inevitable,
most of the key local authorities in England do not have mass evacuations
That is one of the findings from the first Government survey into regional
readiness conducted since the Second World War - details of which have
been obtained by the BBC.
The confidential survey, ordered by the Deputy Prime Minister last
October, also indicates that 77% of councils and 70% of police forces
do not have plans to deal with people who are contaminated in the event
of a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) or 'dirty bomb'
Furthermore, only one of the 28 strategic health authorities in England
is fully prepared to deal with the mass casualties caused by such an
attack despite warnings from the head of MI5, and others, that such
an attack was likely.
Former head of the Cabinet Office's Civil Contingencies Secretariat
Mike Granatt - now a private security consultant - gave BBC News his
reaction to the survey:
"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?"
Mr Granatt added: "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."
The Government has confirmed that a survey of emergency services and
local authorities was carried out in October last year.
In a statement to the BBC, the Cabinet Office said: "It is not possible
to plan for every situation that may happen, so the Government has to
work out... what resilience we have.
"We then have to decide how prepared we need to be. It may be
that we are over-planning or there could be overlaps and gaps."
Another document obtained by the BBC, and dated nine months ago, lists
questions from various agencies on what would happen after a biological
or chemical attack.
One police force asks, for instance: "Will all contaminated scenes
need protection - if so, who will protect them?"
Councils ask: "How do we decontaminate survivor reception centres?"
One of the documents obtained by the BBC details the results from
a confidential Government survey into the readiness of emergency services
in England to deal with catastrophes, including terrorist incidents.
The results are currently being analysed by the Government and, according
to documents seen by BBC News, they register concerns about just how
prepared emergency services, local authorities and the NHS are.
Sources in two different government regions in England have confirmed
to BBC News that since the survey was ordered very little has changed
because of the length of time needed to procure new equipment, the availability
of funds to adequately train personnel and the time needed to coordinate
the activities of all the agencies involved.
The BBC Home Editor Mark Easton said: "These documents provide the
first hard evidence ever seen of England's readiness to deal with a
massive terrorist attack.
"There do appear to be worrying gaps in how local authorities
in particular might cope."
Notes to Editors
The survey reveals that for the emergency services and local authorities:
51% of upper tier local authorities do not have mass evacuation plans
- 24% of upper tier local authorities say they are working on such plans
but most don't know when they will be finished.
77% of upper tier local authorities and 70% of police forces do not
have plans to deal with contaminated people in the event mass evacuation
More than 90% of police forces, fire brigades and local authorities
do not have plans to deal with contaminated buildings.
67% of upper and lower tier local authorities have no specific measures
for supporting the NHS in a mass casualty incident.
42% of police forces and 37% of fire brigades do not have measures to
support the NHS in a mass casualty incident.
Over 85% of upper and lower tier local authorities do not have plans
to handle CBRN contaminated debris and 55% have not identified a site
Only 38% of police forces had trained all their CBRN response personnel.
The documents also show that only just over half of police and fire
services have been involved in live multi-agency CBRN exercises.
England's strategic health authorities use a colour coded system to
assess their readiness for CBRN attack, where red is unprepared, amber
is partially prepared and green is prepared. (Amber green is more prepared
than amber and amber red is less prepared than amber).
Only one authority had a green state of readiness to deal with mass
casualties and only one was green to deal with infectious diseases caused
by a terror attack.
The documents reveal that of the 28 strategic health authorities in
England, their readiness for mass casualties were as follows:
22 amber green; 4 amber red; 1 green; 1 unanswered.
Of the 28 strategic health authorities in England, their readiness
for infectious diseases were as follows:
21 amber green; 5 amber red; 1 green; 1 unanswered.
BBC News has also learned from sources in two government regions that
the methodology used for the NHS survey may contain flaws and it is
likely that it may have to be conducted again.
As a result no-one can be certain of just how prepared the NHS is,
at present, for a major terrorist incident.