Brown unveils civil defence network plan

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Members of the public will be able to join a new form of civil defence network to protect Britain against natural disasters and terrorism, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced today.

The organisations - likened to a new breed of "air raid precautions" or "ARP" wardens from the Second World War - will team up to build the country's resilience in a catastrophe.

As part of a new National Security Strategy, Mr Brown also revealed that the Government will publish for the first time a list of the risks faced by Britain, including possible numbers of fatalities in a range of disasters.

The strategy paper said the "risk register" would be issued in the summer, and would "enable communities to prepare better".

For example, it said the highest threat currently faced is an influenza-type pandemic which the Government believes could kill up to 750,000 people in the UK.

The second-highest risk is coastal flooding on the scale of the 1953 East Coast floods which claimed 300 lives, and which could result in the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Today's document set out moves by ministers to deal with a wide range of threats, including terrorism, nuclear attack, natural disasters such as extreme weather and flooding, international crime and cyber attacks.

A Government spokesman said: "The Prime Minister will talk about a new civil protection network. He wants to update what used to be called civil defence through the Second World War and the Cold War.

"This requires a much broader coalition of people in the community preparing for civil emergencies."

People would volunteer to join their local civil protection network, run by town halls.

They would help evacuate elderly people in the event of a flood, for example, and could even play a role in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the spokesman said.

Asked if it would be similar to Second World War ARP wardens, famous for patrolling the streets during bombing raids, he said: "It's a variation of that."

The new risk register will be updated annually and may be available online, he added.

"There will be a new partnership approach at home, including sharing information with the public that we haven't as a Government given the citizen before.

"We will publish a national risk register for the first time later this year which will give the public an idea of the threats that are being faced in the UK," he said.

"It will give some figures on possible deaths.

"The Prime Minister's intention is that the maximum amount of information should be in the public domain. The intention would not be to alarm."

The risk register already exists in a secret version which is used for planning purposes in Government.

Work will be carried out in the next few months to produce a version for public consumption, the spokesman said.

A new National Security Forum featuring up to 30 experts from academia and other areas will advise another body set up last summer, the National Security Committee, which features ministers alongside intelligence agencies, police and military chiefs.

Membership of the National Security Forum would be by invitation to experts eminent in their fields, a spokesman said.

Today's document also highlighted the importance of Government planning more for the medium- and long-term threats to the country.