FIRE's Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett looks into what happens after the Olympic Games.

With the Olympic flame yet to reach its final destination in London it may seem a little premature to be writing about life after the Olympics. However, if an increasing uncertain international security environment it is important to remind ourselves that as far as many people are concerned the Olympic Games are a transitory event.

With the need to secure the games being uppermost in everyone's minds of late the precautions that have been taken in equipping the Fire and Rescue Services to deal with a major CBRN event or a marauding gun attack provide some comfort. Should anything happen the aptly named New Dimensions programme has provided a solid base of new capabilities that will underpin an effective response.

However with the Prime Minister now openly admitting that austerity as we know it is not going to be a short-term affair the temptation to look at the costs of maintaining the New Dimensions equipment as an area for cost cutting may become overwhelming.

As life returns to the normal routine of attending a range of fire incidents and road traffic accidents the need to retain the New Dimensions equipment may be hard to justify. Fire authorities are going to be faced with some very difficult choices in the near-term. With the events in London on July 7, 2005 receding from the collective memory the overall threat may be perceived as being significantly diminished. However, that would be a premature conclusion.

Events in Aurora at the first showing of the Batman film illustrated the enduring threat from spree-shooters. Recent investments in new equipment for the fire and rescue services staff to enable them to operate in the grey zones in active shooter events are timely. In providing the funding for this new capability political leaders showed that the horrors of Mumbai are still all too vividly recalled.

Mercifully, however, these events - tragic through they are - occur infrequently. In the UK the names of Dunblane and Hungerford are synonymous with spree-shooters as are the events surrounding Derek Bird's shootings in Cumbria. These however took place with over a decade between each incident. Justifying expenditure on such a low level of incidents is difficult.

The primary motivation for the introduction of the New Dimensions equipment arose from the tragic events in New York and Washington in September 2001. That was a day in which the world had to become used to the idea of a new form of threat, mass casualty terrorism. History may yet show that this was a one-off event. But at present it is too early to write the obituary of Al Qaeda and its ideology.

Every time a commentator or political leader points to the indicators of the demise of the movement headline writers quickly prove them wrong. Al Qaeda has shown an enduring ability to survive despite the onslaught under which it has had to ensure from drone attacks in Pakistan and in the Yemen.

International terrorism is also changing. Iran's use of Hezbollah as a proxy for its campaign to seek revenge for the death of its nuclear scientists seems to have few bounds. Rumours are rife that Hezbollah has infiltrated terrorist teams into the mainland of the United States through Mexico.

This is unlikely to be the sole front on which Hezbollah and their Iranian backers are likely to seek retribution. The attack in Bulgaria that saw five Israeli's and a Bulgarian bus driver killed coincidentally with the anniversary of a similar attack In Argentina that saw 85 people killed is one of a number of recent episodes that have vividly illustrated Hezbollah's and Iran's global reach.

Echoing the concerns over the Libyan chemical weapons programme many commentators are worried out the potential for Syria's advanced chemical weapons programme to fall into the hands of terrorists. No doubt contingency plans exist to safeguard the weapons should they appear vulnerable. Such is the level of concern that the King of Jordan went on the record reflecting his concerns. Chemical weapons are an area of the CBRN space where Al Qaeda has demonstrated some capabilities, notably in a six month period in Iraq.

For many of those serving in fire authorities around the UK all of this may seem a distant and far off problem. The chances of a CBRN attack in the UK remain low although Al Qaeda's long-term intent to utilise such weapons remains clear. For those charged with budgetary responsibility this kind of far-off threat is one that is hard to envisage.

What is more likely is that members of the Fire and Rescue Service will face challenges from the gradually increasing levels of chemical or detergent suicides that are occurring in the UK. Recent figures published by the Police CBRN Centre show that in the first six months of 2012 sixteen chemical fatalities were reported by various police forces. This is a small but clear increase on the past year and provides a worrying indicator. Each of these events poses its own specific issues and the clean-up operation can also see New Dimensions equipment used extensively. Only three years ago this specific threat to life was unheard of in the UK.

All of this serves to illustrate a simple point. In the aftermath of events on September 11 it was central government that funded the provision of the New Dimensions equipment. The same model also was applied after the shootings in Mumbai. But the provision of equipment is one thing. Maintaining and operating it in the future is entirely a different matter and it is something that central government has to grasp.

Despite the trends towards localism, which has some merits in particular situations, it cannot become a viewpoint that is applied dogmatically. Some flexibility is needed. It cannot be the role of fire authorities to provide the funds from an increasingly dwindling pot to provide equipment that is essentially needed to protect the public from international terrorism and the threat from spree-shooters and those that wish to end their lives using chemicals. Some threats demand a strategic response from central government.

In the aftermath of the Olympic Games in which we all sincerely hope that the UK basks gloriously in having delivered a safe and secure series of events central government needs to reflect carefully on what happens next. In a world full of protean threats they must set the budgets and provide the funds to support the on-going maintenance and operation of equipment that will help the Fire and Rescue Service deal with ever-more complicated situations.

 

 

Posted July 24th, 2012 at 1110 by Andrew. Comment by emailing andrew.lynch@pavpub.com