The Metropolitan Police, along with emergency service partners and Heathrow Airport, carried out a two-day exercise that included the live play of a Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear [CBRN] incident on Thursday, 20 June into Friday, 21 June, at the Heathrow Express rail hub.
The scenario provided valuable learning both in terms of the nature of the incident and the challenges brought about by the location.
In addition to the live play exercise, a table-top version, testing multi-agency readiness, decision making and skill levels, was run on Tuesday, 2 July at Polar Park Police Station at Heathrow.
Although the UK’s threat level remains at severe, the exercise was not carried out in response to any specific intelligence or threat.
Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Dawn Morris said: “This is the first time we have been able to carry out a live exercise inside an airport rail connection hub and the experience and learning gained from this is invaluable.
“The exercise tested our joint response to dealing with a CBRN exposure in a controlled and safe environment. This is important as it will help officers and staff be better prepared should we ever face this type of challenge for real. It also gave us the opportunity to highlight the advice to ‘remove, remove, remove’ in the event of exposure to a hazardous substance.
“I must stress, however, that the exercise has not been designed with any specific threat in mind either in terms of the hazardous material element, or the location.”
The scenario involved police, fire and ambulance staff responding together when a biological substance was released aboard a train inbound to Heathrow. The exercise also provided the opportunity to test the use and deployment of decontamination procedures.
Following the success of a similar exercise named ‘Raptor’ in 2018, Heathrow hosted Exercise Gator, creating a fully immersive planned exercise experience across areas of the airport after operating hours. Volunteers and colleagues who work at the airport took part in the command and control element of the exercise.
The scenario and exercise was developed by the Met’s Protective Security Operations Command, under the leadership of the unit Commander, Chief Superintendent Dawn Morris, in conjunction with Heathrow. The exercise had approximately 300 people taking part across the live exercise play area, the Heathrow command centre and the MPS Specialist Operations Room.
Chief Supt. Morris added: “We work closely with a variety of police forces and our emergency response partners on a day to day basis, but that doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to be complacent. It is vital that we regularly challenge and test ourselves to ensure that we can deliver the best possible response to whatever may come our way. The learning from this exercise will really benefit and help us in our response should a major incident ever occur in at a major transport hub.”
Chris Garton, Chief Operating Officer at Heathrow, said: “The safety and security of our passengers, airport colleagues and neighbours is our utmost priority and this exercise is a key part of preparing an effective response, if the worst should happen at Heathrow or any other UK airport. Planned exercises like Gator allow Heathrow, its partners and the authorities to identify areas to strengthen and collaborate on, so the likelihood of an incident like this taking place can be even further reduced.
“Our focus on health and safety is not just the right thing to do, it is the foundation of an efficient operation, a secure airport and a sustainable business."