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Britain prepares for terror attacks
Wednesday, September 26, 2001 at 09:00 JST LONDON — Is London next?
The chilling headline said it all for the city that survived the wartime blitz by Germany and then lived through a concerted campaign by Irish Republican Army bombers.
Gas mask sales have rocketed, tourists have vanished in droves and architects ponder the wisdom of building more skyscrapers. Big banks have already canceled corporate Christmas parties.
Even the actress daughter of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been forced to pull out of a London show. Linda Powell's father feared she could become a terrorist target.
With Britain standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in its "war on terrorism," that has inevitably sparked security fears that London could follow in the wake of New York and Washington.
Police chief John Stevens, who put the British capital on the highest peacetime security alert in its history, was the first to admit: "London is at risk because it is one of the world's major capital cities."
No specific threat has been issued but the authorities are taking no chances. If extremists are ready to use airliners as guided missiles, the unthinkable is now possible.
The nightmare that haunts every disaster planner is a chemical or biological attack, and the World Health Organization has warned Western governments to prepare for possible assaults.
Leading WHO executive David Nabarro said on Tuesday: "Alarm bells are starting to ring. Under these circumstances it would be imprudent not to be thinking at least and planning as hard as possible."
The warning has certainly not fallen on deaf ears.
Britain is reviewing national contingency plans for dealing with deadly anthrax or plague attacks.
"Events in the United States have changed things somewhat and we will be looking at those plans again to ensure the right level of preparedness," said senior health department official Nigel Lightfoot. "The risk is low but the risk is there."
"The New York attack showed that indiscriminate (action) on a massive scale is now acceptable to these people and that's a worry," was how one government source graphically portrayed the threat in the Sunday Times.
The paper painted a doomsday scenario of armed troops in full nuclear, biological and chemical suits taking command of the city.
In a bio-chemical attack, Prime Minister Tony Blair would escape in tunnels beneath his Downing Street residence to a Ministry of Defense bunker.
Secret tunnels under London's underground railway system could take up to 8,000 people — but that shelter would be powerless to keep out the deadly effects of a chemical attack.
Up to 250 fire engines could be immediately directed to a bomb site. Every firefighter is trained to tackle skyscraper blazes.
The "gold control room" at Scotland Yard, London's police headquarters, could tap instantly into CCTV cameras around the city.
So now, with any scenario however horrific firmly on the drawing board, minimizing the mayhem is a top priority.
Brian Ward, chairman of the Emergency Planning Society, which groups emergency specialists, is a realist, concluding: "If an attack occurs, initially you have chaos."
He said the aim of planning was to return to order from chaos as quickly as possible. (Reuters News)
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), September 25, 2001
The Brits had better prepare. As our closest ally they will be target number 2.
-- Uncle Fred (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 26, 2001.