Big Olympic security test in London

2012-02-20 22:23

London - Britain is planning a massive Olympics security exercise this week centring on a mock emergency on the London subway system - a test that evokes uncomfortable reminders of the deadliest attack on the city since World War II.

The security test announced on Monday envisions that an emergency takes place on the busiest days of the 2012 London Olympics. Authorities declined to reveal the exact scenario that emergency services will be addressing, since dealing with a surprise is part of the test.

"It is testing communications right from the very bottom from the constable or fire officer who is responding right the way up to Cobra, [the government's emergency committee]," Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the national Olympic security co-ordinator, told reporters at Scotland Yard.

The public will see police and emergency services hustling to the shuttered Aldwych Tube station starting at mid-morning on Wednesday and people being "evacuated" from the stop as part of the test, dubbed "Forward Defensive."

The Aldwych station, located on the Strand in central London, has been used in art exhibits, plays and films - offering a venue complete with dusty platforms, narrow staircases and ageing electrical systems.

The two-day test is a part of a multifaceted security operation aimed at creating confidence in the safety of the games. Some 2 500 people will take part, though much of the action will be taking place behind closed doors.

"We need to be confident that we have the right people in the right places, that we understand how others operate and that we are talking to each other at the right levels and in the right way," Allison said in a statement.

He said this was part of series of Olympic security exercises they have run but "the first with such a significant response from the emergency services on the ground".

The test Wednesday and Thursday will be staged as if it is August 8 and 9 - the two busiest days projected for the Olympics, which run from July 27 to August 12.

Communicate underground

One of the primary areas under review is the communication capacities of emergency workers, different police services, government ministers and transport officials.

London emergency workers have experienced communications problems before.

Rescue and police efforts after the July 7 2005, transit bombings that killed 52 commuters in London were severely hampered by emergency workers' inability to communicate underground. Many have wondered whether more could have been done for the injured if communications had been better.

The attacks came a day after London was awarded the Olympics, linking the two events forever.

Security has a long been a critical concern for the Olympics, particularly since 11 Israeli athletes and coaches died in a terror attack at the 1972 Munich Games. British authorities have planned for a threat level for the London games of "severe," meaning an attack is "highly likely".

British authorities have refused to discuss whether there has been any particular risk to the London Olympics, but a huge international media presence gives the Olympics a ready platform for any terror group intent on wreaking havoc at live events broadcast worldwide.

Britain's defence secretary, meanwhile, announced that about 2 100 military reserves have been called up to help protect the event. Philip Hammond confirmed in a written statement on Monday that the reservists would be part of up to 13 500 UK troops on land, at sea and in the skies guarding the games.

Typhoon fighter jets, helicopters, two warships and bomb disposal experts will also be on duty to guard against Olympic security threats.

Read more on:    security  |  london olympics

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