Terrorism Response - On the alert

Strategies for dealing with conventional terrorist attacks are already in place. Edward Murray reports on the measures that are being taken by damage management firms to handle newer threats like chemical and biological weapons

The UK, unfortunately, has experience in dealing with what might be referred to as conventional terrorist attacks, meaning insurers, loss adjusters and damage management firms have been able to develop strategies for logistics and planning.

Michael Burnett, past-president of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters, comments: "We have had Canary Wharf, the Manchester Arndale Centre and the Northern Ireland situation and so there is the capability of dealing with these situations." However, terrorism continues to evolve and conventional explosives are no longer the only issue. Radioactive, chemical and biological weapons have all become part of the mix and dealing with them creates a whole new set of problems.

Shaun Doherty, managing director of damage management specialists ISS says: "A dirty bomb is something that most disaster recovery companies would find difficult to deal with, as you are looking at decontaminating the outside of buildings, and it is a massive job. It is in the plants, trees and soil and is a huge operation." He adds that a further problem lies in the fact that access would not be available for some time as the area would be sealed off.

Low incentives

Not only is there the problem of scale, but there is also a question of equipment, as Mr Burnett highlights: "There is a certain amount of training, maintenance, validation and even the necessary suits cost £3000 each. If you looked at it from a commercial point of view, what would be the incentive to go out and train a squad of guys, get the suits, keep them up to speed and be able to be validated and checked by the government, for an event that may not actually happen, like the Millennium bug."

There is an argument that dealing with such a situation should be the remit of the emergency services and not a commercial operation at all.

Wherever the end responsibility lies, it is clear that some level of readiness has to be in place.

Commenting on this aspect of the problem, a spokeswoman for the British Disaster Management Association, says: "The BDMA believes there is undoubtedly an issue around training and resources in relation to potential terrorist activity, and discussions with government and industry bodies have been taking place. We do have members with the skills and experience to deal with a range of chemical and biological hazards. In order to ensure sufficient resources, in the event of a major terrorist incident, the government will need to make a significant investment in a specialised training programme."

Much work is currently being done on this and the government has recently completed a consultation period to ascertain the capabilities available in the commercial sector in terms of training, personnel and equipment to deal with such a situation. The aim is to set up a government decontamination service. Full details of the consultation paper can be found at www.defra.gov.uk.

One of the major problems is the issue of funding and who would pay the bill for the requisite training, personnel and equipment. There will be no quick solution but dialogue is ongoing.

Access problems

From an insurer's point of view, one of the major problems created by an attack is in validating and signing-off claims. Access is a major problem but it is an issue that is being addressed. John Wickham, head of property claims at Norwich Union, says: "If the adjuster could not get access, CILA has already agreed a protocol with the government and various other bodies as to how these things would be managed."

He explains that, following the Arndale Centre bomb in 1996, just one firm of adjusters was allowed access, and it reported back to everybody, having taken photographs and video footage. However, it is impossible to predict the timescales that would be involved in even one set of adjusters gaining access to a seriously contaminated site, and alternatives are still being discussed to ensure claims could be dealt with.

At the moment, there are more questions than answers, but the good news is that both government and industry bodies are working towards a solution.

The completed consultation process for the GDS will be a welcome step forward.

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