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[November 17, 2006]
Glimpse through the gates of hell
(Daily Mail Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) IT IS a scenario that our crack security personnel are bracing themselves for and all Irish citizens dread.
A team of terrorists has arrived in Ireland from Britain and are travelling by van to an unknown destination.
Even before the terrorists arrive in the country, Garda special branch and military intelligence are aware of the plot.
It is known that on board the van there is an explosive chemical device.
What is not known is the type of chemical being transported.
There is a chance that it is toxic and that, if it explodes, it could contaminate a wide area.
Members of the specialist Garda surveillance unit discreetly shadow the van, before moving in to intercept the gang.
A select few in the upper echelons of Garda management, the Defence Forces, the Government, the Fire Services and Health Service Executive are aware of the plot as it unfolds.
The government-appointed Office of Emergency Planning, a joint civil and military committee chaired by Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, is kept informed.
Teams from the Defence Forces' bomb disposal unit are on standby, as are members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the local fire service, which has been ordered to make ready its decontamination unit.
Then the totally unexpected happens. The van transporting the team is involved in a completely unrelated car crash.
In an ideal scenario, all the emergency services would be immediately ready to converge on the site and spring into action within seconds.
Fire and ambulance crews arrive on the scene, but armed gardaI from the ERU are not far behind. The army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal team (EOD) arrives a short time later.
The Defence Forces members have been trained to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies (known by the acronym CBRN) and are equipped with stateofthe-art suits to protect them from contamination.
But some of the gardaI are also wearing protective gear and are attached to one of the six CBRN teams in each of the Garda regions.
The priority is public safety and anyone close to what is still a potential blast site are evacuated. This is the job of the fire and ambulance crews.
The terrorist team also has to be neutralised, and indeed rescued, from the crashed car. While fire crews carry a badly injured member of the gang from the van, armed gardaI, some of whom have no protection, move in to arrest the others.
It's now time for the army bomb disposal team, the EOD, which still does not know whether an explosion would release a toxic chemical, sending dangerous particles into the air for miles around.
After successfully dealing with the explosive element of the device, the bomb disposal team are hosed down in a special fire service decontamination unit by fire crews wearing their own heavily padded protection suits.
Members of the Garda Technical Bureau are on hand to carry out a forensic search of what was not a crime scene because, of course, this was only an exercise.
But at a time when radical Islamic militants are becoming more explicitly threatening over the use of Shannon as a stopover for U.S. troops heading to Iraq - it is an exercise that may well come in handy some day.
In this exercise, the chemical compound was a liquid and not toxic, containing the threat to the immediate area, according to the Defence Forces Captain Feargal Purcell. However, he adds, 'it was designed to be quite difficult to deal with - if and when it happens for real'.
While such a high level of danger is unlikely, it is hoped that making the exercise particularly difficult ensures the emergency services will be ready for anything.
The exercise, one of a number organised under the auspices of the Office of Emergency Planning, set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., was watched by Minister O'Dea.
Fielding questions afterwards, the Minister said there was no increased threat to the country.
It took place at the Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare and the key aim was to make sure the various agencies are able to work together quickly in the event of an attempted attack.
The four major elements of the exercise were casualty treatment and evacuation (the responsibility of the HSE), bomb disposal, forensic crime scene supervision and area decontamination (which would be carried out by the fire services).
In years gone by, the Defence Forces would have been equipped with little protection in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
But, in the wake of September 11 and at a time when public finances remain buoyant, the Defence Forces have been able to afford pretty much whatever they feel they need.
The purchase of CBRN equipment has been going on over a number of years.
This range includes approximately 9,500 protective suits, 800 of which were delivered in 2006.
Other equipment on hand includes respirators, biological agent detectors and screening kits, group decontamination equipment and personal decontamination equipment.
More than E8million has been spent on this programme in recent years.
Garda CBRN teams have been in place since early 2004, with more than 100 now trained to deal with nonconventional attacks.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal suit
Used to approach, identify and make safe explosive devices GORGET: Constructed of Kevlar, it is designed to protect the throat and deflect heat and blast away from the face SUIT: Made of Nomex, a fireproof material developed to protect motor racing drivers.
Protects against bomb 'flash' caused by superheated gases.
Lined with Kevlar to stop shrapnel GLOVES: On bomb or mine disposal missions, operators often work barehanded for dexterity when defusing explosive devices, but they can opt for Nomex gloves.
Here the operator wears rubber gloves from an NBC - short for nuclear, bacteriolgical, chemical - suit BOOTS: Even the footwear boasts Kevlar, but here boots are covered by the operator's NBC suit. It features double layers of rubber with a charcoal-impregnated interior which can soak up chemical or biological threats RADIO: External pouch holds a two-way set. If radio waves might set off a bomb's primer, the operator drags a 'heavy cable' - really a phone line - behind him instead HELMET: Features Kevlar, light but dense material used in bulletproof vests.
Goggles with ultra strong 'ballistic glass' protect the eyes against blasts, but this man is wearing a respirator - a gas mask - to filter out chemical or biological weapons TORSO PROTECTOR: Metal plates can be added to the suit for protection against blast and shrapnel. Rear of plates is lined with specialist foam to help spread the load from a bomb's pressure wave - superheated gases moving away from the blast at more than 3,500 feet per second CLIMATE CONTROL: Suit has an inner underwear section with pipework running through it. Pump seen here forces liquid through pipes, drawing heat and moisture away from the body to keep operator cool.
Same system is used in suits astronauts wear on space walks. Pump is battery-operated KNEE PADS: Operators often have to work in cramped areas.
Knee pads help cut fatigue.
Combined here with shin pads to protect the lower legs
Copyright 2006 Daily Mail. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.
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