Dirty bomb blast destroys downtown Seattle. (Terrorism Exercise).

On May 12 this year a radioactive car bomb containing 1,500 lbs of homemade explosive combined with a caesium/americium component exploded in the heart of Seattle, US. Thankfully, it was just an exercise, but as MI5 Chief Eliza Manningham-Buller recently stated, a western city could be hit by such a bomb in the near future. So are large scale exercises worthwhile and should Britain follow suit?

I recently attended the TOPOFFII exercise in the city of Seattle over the 12th and 13th of May this year. TOPOFF stands for top officials and was targeted at improving domestic (and cross border) preparedness against potential terrorist attacks.

The exercise was co-sponsored by both the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. One of the interesting elements was the very open, partnership approach that was adopted with the collaborators in running this exercise. The Office of Domestic Preparedness (part of Homeland Security) and their partners were regularly and publicly reiterating this. It certainly appeared to me as a delegate that this was genuinely the case.

TOPOFFII was built on the early experiences learned from the original TOPOFF run in May, 2000. As a national exercise it involved five primary centres, namely: Washington, Chicago, Ottawa, Seattle and Vancouver. As such it was listed as an international exercise. In actuality, only Canada was participating, the effects on other cities were simulated. There were, however, observers from other countries, including the UK (representatives of the Terrorist Protection Unit and New Scotland Yard).

One of the key questions might be why Canada was involved? This was due to the fact that following the events of September 11, Canada and the US had made a commitment under the Smart Border Declaration to engage in more frequent cross-border counter-terrorism training activities. …

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