Britons 'more vulnerable to terrorism than 60 years ago'

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The Independent Online

The 24-hour convenience culture has hit Britons' ability to cope with emergencies ranging from a simple power cut to a major terrorist strike, a senior policeman warned yesterday.

The 24-hour convenience culture has hit Britons' ability to cope with emergencies ranging from a simple power cut to a major terrorist strike, a senior policeman warned yesterday.

Chris Fox said earlier generations - who endured bombing campaigns during the Second World War and the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War - were far more likely to stock up on tinned food, bottled water and candles than modern families used to round-the-clock shopping.

Mr Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, spoke out as the Government prepared to send a 22-page leaflet, Preparing for Emergencies, to all 25 million homes in the UK. Backed by a television advertising campaign, which began last night, it advises people on basic first aid, how to be ready for a disaster and how to act if they are caught in an emergency, such as a chemical, biological or radiological "dirty bomb" attack.

Mr Fox said he hoped the £8.3m publicity drive would shake the complacency of people used to the comforts of the consumer society. "People have got common sense, but they have been weaned away from risk. I think it's because we have 24-hour shops, we have 24-hour fuel and 24-hour cash," he said. "Everything you can pop out and get. People have got comfortable. Thirty years ago, people were prepared to last a little bit longer before they needed these things."

The leaflet has been compiled by ministers, police, fire and ambulance services, MI5, the chief medical officer and the Emergency Planning Society. It tells families to have on hand bottled water, tinned food, toiletries, spare clothes and blankets, a radio with spare batteries, a first aid kit, mobile phone and cash. It also advises having useful telephone numbers and home and car keys readily accessible.

Mr Fox said: "In recent incidents where we have evacuated people from floods we found people surprised ... not to have things they have got used to. Do people know where to turn their water off? Do you have a radio that works off batteries? There are sensible, simple things that people can do to ease themselves through a crisis."

John Asquith, chairman of the Emergency Planning Society, said he believed Britain would score nine or 10 out of 10 for its standard of preparation for an emergency. But Mr Fox said: "I am a police officer and I am not quite as optimistic."

Distribution of the leaflet, the first of its kind since the notorious Protect and Survive booklet of 1980, begins next week. Caroline Flint, a Home Office minister, said the move had not been prompted by any specific threat, but followed requests from the public to have more information about how to act in an emergency.

A key theme in the booklet is for people to "go in, stay in, tune in" - listen to television or radio broadcasts for advice on what to do next. In the event of being trapped in a conventional bomb blast, people are urged to stay close to a wall and tap on pipes so rescuers can hear them. If it is a "dirty bomb" they are forbidden to leave the area.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE WORST

Always have on hand:

  • Bottled water
  • Tinned food
  • Bottle/tin opener

In emergency, collect:

  • List of phone numbers, including doctor and close relatives
  • Home and car keys
  • Toiletries, sanitary supplies, medicines
  • Radio and spare batteries
  • Torch and batteries
  • Candles, matches
  • First aid kit
  • Mobile phone
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Spare clothes and blankets

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