Mock attack shows media's vital role after British 9/11

A mock terrorist attack on Warrington was used as a table-top exercise to discover how the media and emergency services would co-operate in a 9/11-type emergency.

The test, staged in March, was part of a roadshow, organised by the Society of Editors, the Government’s communications service and the anti-terrorism squad, that has been held in 10 UK regions to press home the need for such co-operation.

It involved regional editors from the Press Association, BBC, Sky, ITV and newspapers, plus representatives of the police, ambulance and fire services. They were asked how they would act when, within five hours of an attack, 3,000 of the world’s media, plus 200 TV trucks, arrived in their area.

The tour of the regions followed the launch earlier this year of a blueprint for emergency reaction, put together by a working party under the umbrella of the Media Emergency Forum (MEF).

SoE executive director Bob Satchwell told Press Gazette he had stressed to the emergency services at each venue that, although they and the media were suspicious of each other, they needed to be partners.

The MEF blueprint said the public had a right and a need to know what was happening. Accreditation of journalists and their ability to communicate were seen as vital. “There was recognition, perhaps for the first time, that the vultures of the media had an important part to play. They needed to be helped to do their jobs,” said Satchwell.

He said the value of the media’s role – which was as important as protecting the public and investigating the crime – had to be passed down to every chief constable, fire chief, ambulance controller, emergency planner and local council boss and those under them.

He told media representatives they needed to learn from the lessons of past disasters. “We need to learn the language of fear and warnings and how easy it can be to jump to conclusions.” He also questioned the media’s own resilience. “We don’t often think about that. even though the media has become a terrorist target itself.” He said that, while journalists were brilliant at reacting to the unusual, they were not natural planners.

REGIONAL EDITORS’ REACTION

Editors who attended the MEF roadshows appear supportive. South London Press editor Hannah Walker, left, said it was critical that the emergency services and the local and national media were able to “sit down and have open and frank conversations about what we would do if the worst happened.

“For the local media, it is key that we are in on these conversations. Our obligation is to our readers and how we would serve them in a crisis. We have to get essential information out to readers and so we need to be in on the equation. It’s about building strong relationships and planning.”

Plymouth Evening Herald editor Alan Qualtrough, left, said: “It’s an extremely good idea that they are being proactive. If they do what they say they will do, in the event of a disaster, for instance in the Devonport dockyard, it means we won’t get squeezed out by the nationals. Provision for the regional and local press, as they did at Soham, and things like accreditation, are excellent ideas.”

By Jean Morgan

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