Tories will order firms to conduct terror drills

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Schools, companies, theatres and other public places would be made to have regular terror drills under a Conservative government, a shadow minister pledged yesterday.

Schools, companies, theatres and other public places would be made to have regular terror drills under a Conservative government, a shadow minister pledged yesterday.

Patrick Mercer, the Tory spokesman on Homeland Security, was speaking as London prepared for its biggest mock terrorism emergency, which will begin at midday today. The exercise, which will affect streets in the heart of the City, is the first of its kind in the country.

It takes place as America prepares to commemorate the second anniversary of the 11 September attack that killed more than 3,000 people in the the World Trade Centre.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said last week that a terrorist attack on the capital was inevitable. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, acknowledged that a suicide bombing in London is the "logical conclusion" of events around the world.

Mr Mercer - who is about to go to New York to study anti-terrorism measures - said that the Government had not prepared Britain for modern terrorism.

Reports in The Independent on Sunday, drawing on secret government documents, have revealed that the country was unprepared for an attack that could "threaten the viability of the nation as a whole". The documents admitted that communications were "poor", legislation was "anachronistic and ineffective", and that the nation's civil defence "effectively no longer exists".

The shadow minister said: "I am not convinced that anything terribly practical has been done yet." Only half the decontamination units promised to Parliament for use after a chemical, biological or nuclear attack had so far been deployed. He criticised a lack of official information and training and the delay of today's exercise to within days of the second anniversary of the attacks on the US.

He said that the Health and Safety at Work Act should be amended to ensure that all places "where large numbers of people gather" should be informed of what to do after a terrorist attack and should carry out regular exercises the existing fire drills.

Today's exercise, codenamed Osiris 2, will centre on Bank tube station and will simulate a poison gas attack on a train that is then brought to a halt in a tunnel deep underground. Sixty police cadets will portray seriously injured and dying commuters, and access will be restricted to streets within a quarter of a mile of the tunnel.

The exercise, involving a total of 700 people, will test new chemical suits and decontamination equipment for the first time, and will assess the response of emergency services and hospitals.

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