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Last Updated

09 Dec 2002

Source: BBC, December 9, 2002.

UK terror plans shake-up

Britain's emergency plans are to be shaken-up to help the country cope in the event of a large-scale terror attack.

A draft bill being put before Parliament next year will force councils to put together emergency plans on how to cope with biological, nuclear and chemical attacks.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the plans would provide "a structure for civil defence for the 21st century", updating legislation from 1948 and 1986 that reflected Cold War threats.

But the spokesman said reports that all UK households would be issued with leaflets giving instructions on what do in the event of an attack were "speculative".

News of the proposals follows warnings from the government's former emergency planning chief, Eric Alley, that the UK is not doing enough to ensure it could cope in the wake of 11 September-style attacks.

Last month NHS hospitals were put on alert for a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological agents.

Public health officials issued guidelines to doctors telling them how to identify and treat patients caught up in an attack involving the deliberate release of anthrax, smallpox, botulism, plague and other potentially lethal agents.

No panic

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said while there is no specific terror threat the public should be on alert.

The Sunday Times said the bill would include plans to send leaflets to homes with the message "go in, stay in, tune in" in the event of an attack.

But the Cabinet Office spokesman told BBC News Online that it was far too early to say what the detail of the draft bill would be ahead of its publication next year.

"We are consulting with local authorities, experts and emergency planners.

"This is a significant piece of legislation and we want to get it right," he said.

Bill preparations

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford told the Sunday Times the aim of the new bill would be to give the public greater information, but not cause panic.

"We want people to know we are ready for any eventuality without alarming the public," he is quoted as saying.

Preparations for the new bill are reported to have been led by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, set up by Mr Blair shortly before 11 September to help deal with unexpected emergencies.

The Sunday Times also said the bill would contain new emergency powers for the government to create "community assistance zones" to help move people faster in the event of an emergency.

Mr Raynsford told the paper that UK Resilience, a body set up after 11 September to help draw up contingency plans for the country, was creating a network of "gatekeepers" - trusted members of the community who would be able to inform local people on the nature of an attack and help in any evacuation.