The discovery of bomb-making ingredients in London last week and the Madrid bombing has once more focused our minds on the terrorist threat. Emergency planning expert Brian Ward tells SIMON DRURY how he believes Halton would cope.
THE man in charge of planning Britain's response to a major terrorist attack says he believes the nation is well prepared.
Emergency planning chief Brian Ward believes the nation can cope with anything terrorists can throw at us.
But he warns that an attack is inevitable - a matter of 'when' rather than 'if'.
Mr Ward, who lives in Runcorn, was responding to fears that the UK has neither the resources or knowledge to deal with a large bomb or terrorist attack.
Top police officers and local authority leaders claim that Britain would be ill-prepared to tackle a terrorist threat.
Patrick Cunningham, president of the Emergency Planning Society, which represents councils and emergency services, said: 'As things stand we are not 100% prepared by any means to deal with a Madrid-type disaster. Probably the main reason for that is that funding for local authorities' emergency planning has fallen from £24.5m in 1991 to £19m in the present day.
'That reduction has occurred despite the fact that in that time we have had to deal with the fuel crisis, foot-and-mouth disease, widespread flooding, train crashes and now, of course, we have this increased probability of some act of terrorism.'
His views were echoed by Patrick Mercer, Conservative de-fence spokesman, who agreed that more money was needed to put into practice the increased powers afforded to police, the emergency services, central government and local authorities by the Civil Contingencies Bill.
Mr Mercer said: 'Our big problem is that the powers are there but there is nothing really to make them work. The money that local authorities need to employ these powers is missing. The civil defence grant this year has been frozen at last year's level. Effectively, therefore, it has been cut in real terms.'
Mr Mercer wants a mass public information campaign coupled with training to prepare people for eventualities such as contamination. He also wants to see the creation of an emergency volunteer reserve.
But Mr Ward believes Halton, and other local authorities throughout the UK, are well prepared to deal with any eventuality.
He told the Weekly News: 'In my mind there is no doubt that we will be able to cope and that is well borne out by evidence.
'I believe our emergency services are well trained to deal with any eventuality and now are to be given the right equipment to deal with the aftermath of a large bomb or chemical attack.
'Fire officers are being well-trained on how to carry out their duties in the sort of difficult circumstances they can expect after a terrorist attack.
'Sadly, I believe that sooner or later there will be a large-scale attack in the UK from a terrorist group. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to train our staff in the latest techniques as well as providing them with the latest, most up-to-date equipment possible.
'I would reassure the people of Runcorn and Widnes that the emergency services' and support organisations' level of preparedness to deal with emergencies arising from a terrorist attack is of the highest standard.
'I am dismissive of the remarks that have appeared during the last two weeks claiming that we could not cope or only a token response could be made.
'The Government is investing heavily in the New Dimensions programme in providing the fire and rescue services with state-of-the-art equipment, at the cost of £56m, for mass contamination capability and a further £132m for urban search and rescue.
'In the event of a major terrorist incident, we would cope through the professionalism of all those engaged in emergency response. It is injudicious timing, after the attack in Madrid, to state that we could not cope.
'Here in the UK, and the North West in particular, we have had long experience of dealing with terrorist attacks. Thirty years of IRA bombs have proved that we have the expertise to deal with anything that is thrown at us.'