British public to be given knife, bomb and shooting first aid training for terror attacks

Exclusive: Training programme to be rolled out across the UK amid 'unprecedented' terror threat 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 21 September 2018 21:45 BST
How do the UK's terror threat levels work?

Members of the public will be trained to treat victims of terror attacks in the aftermath of incidents, under a nationwide programme launched by the police, The Independent can reveal.

With security sources continuing to warn of an unprecedented threat, the first aid courses will focus on wounds caused by bombings, shootings and knife attacks.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who attempted to save the life of the police officer killed in last year’s Westminster attack, this week called for members of the public to “step forward” during incidents.

Police chiefs still want anyone caught up in terror attacks to run and hide from danger first, and stressed people are not being asked to put themselves at risk and should only help victims when they are already in a safe place.

A senior officer at the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) said the training was not in response to any specific threat, but part of work to give “appropriate advice to every level of society”.

Asked why the first aid courses are being launched, Superintendent Adam Thomson, the deputy national coordinator for protect and prepare strategies, told The Independent: “The primary reason we exist is to keep the public safe, either by putting in measures before, or after, attacks that will save lives.

“Run, Hide, Tell counters the greatest risk from the kind of attacks that intelligence indicates we could experience, and what we have experienced in the last 18 months.

“The next thing that saves life once you’re safe, would be to use appropriate first aid.”

Safety protocol for UK emergency services dictates that if there is a threat, only armed officers wearing protection would be able to enter the scene of a terror attack, meaning first aid knowledge among the public could become vital.

Fire service did not arrive at scene of Manchester terror attack for over two hours

In the immediate aftermath of the Manchester bombing, incorrect reports of a marauding gunman meant paramedics should not have been allowed to treat victims in the arena’s foyer, but a police officer overrode official guidance.

Now, a first aid programme drawn up by St John’s Ambulance has been adapted specifically for explosions, knife attacks, shootings, acid attacks and chemical incidents.

It includes instructions on how to move casualties and stem bleeding from wounds, and how to assess whether injured people are breathing or conscious.

People receiving the training will be shown how to prioritise who they help, and put anyone unconscious in the recovery position until the emergency services arrive.

Supt Thomson said St John Ambulance had “narrowed down the spectrum [of potential injuries] to the likely impact from a number of types of terror attack, and used the best application of first aid within each of the scenarios”.

“We now have that product available, how we incorporate that into our campaigns is what we’re working on now,” he added.

“Our message is very clear – people need to be safe before they take any other action.”

The training has been under development for several years, and follows similar teaching given to 11 to 16-year-olds in schools across the UK as part of the ACT for Youth programme.

One of the slides from a first aid training presentation on terror attacks that is being rolled out by police
One of the slides from a first aid training presentation on terror attacks that is being rolled out by police (Action Counters Terrorism)

For adults, the advice will be delivered alongside wider training on the terror threat that can be given by specialist counterterror security advisers, or internally by businesses and local authorities.

Firms targeted for the scheme will include those in charge of entertainment venues, symbolic buildings and other crowded places that have become “soft” targets for terrorists.

ACT’s 190 security advisors have also been working with power plants, the UK’s critical national infrastructure, hazardous sites and buildings containing dangerous substances that extremists could seek to use in atrocities.

The UK terror threat is set at the second-highest level of “severe”, meaning further attacks are considered highly likely.

Since the Westminster attack in March 2017, security services have foiled 13 Islamist plots and four from the extreme right-wing, and two 15-year-old boys were arrested for allegedly planning a new far-right terror attack on Thursday.

The number of active terror investigations being carried out by specialist police and the security services has reached its highest level, currently standing at more than 650 probes, focusing on the “most dangerous individuals”.

The emergency services protocol came into focus following the Manchester bombing, where initial reports of a gunman on the loose meant firefighters did not respond for two hours.

A report into the response to the atrocity, which left 22 victims dead, found a police duty officer made the “life-or-death” decision to allow paramedics, police officers, security guards, arena staff and survivors to remain in the venue’s foyer performing first aid, despite the official protocol stipulating they be evacuated from the “hot zone”.

“It is the panel’s belief, in terms of protecting saveable lives, that this was one of the most crucial decisions taken on the night,” the report concluded.

Supt Thomson said: “The emergency services will always push as far forward as it’s safe to do ... and they have established protocols to do that.

“Saving life includes not adding more casualties to a situation.”

The senior officer was speaking days after Mr Ellwood suggested – while giving evidence to the Westminster attack inquests – that members of the public should “step forward” during atrocities.

The Conservative MP and former soldier, who attempted to save PC Keith Palmer’s life, said: “I know the official advice is to step back, report it.

“I find myself countering that somewhat, because if more of us do step forward, as we saw in the Manchester attack, London Bridge and Westminster Bridge as well, the message gets through that no terrorist is going to win.”

Supt Thomson said police will always urge people to move to a place of safety in the first instance, and are not changing the primary Run, Hide, Tell advice.

“But we would never criticise somebody who courageously chose to give first aid where they are uncertain of the circumstances, and they make a choice to do so to save someone else’s life,” he added.

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