Emergency response tested as cross-border counter-terrorism exercise begins

Updated: 

A three-day counter-terrorism exercise testing the response of emergency services in England and Scotland to a cross-border incident has begun.

The "live-play scenario", which will also involve locations in the Lothians and Northumbria, is not in response to any specific threat but the result of more than a year of planning.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said training needs to respond to the change in high-casualty attacks carried out by individuals or small groups with vehicles and weapons such as has been seen recently in the UK.

The exercise featured a vehicle attack which began in an area of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning.

It tested armed response teams, paramedics and firefighters as well as police control room and organisational staff as observers watched the action unfold.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd chaired a COBR meeting as part of the exercise and the Scottish Government's Resilience Room updated Scottish ministers on the event.

Amber Rudd
Home Secretary Amber Rudd at the Conservative Party Conference (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Named Exercise Border Reiver, police said it will not affect day-to-day policing or emergency responses, which will continue as normal throughout the exercise.

Mr Higgins said: "We've seen a number of terrorist incidents within the UK which sadly led to a lot of fatalities. We've moved to a threat level of critical on two occasions.

"As these things have occurred so have our plans evolved to try and recreate the threat that we believe exists within the UK.

More on the multi-agency counter terrorism training exercise at https://t.co/dQTnQTlTjz 2/2

-- Police Scotland (@policescotland) October 3, 2017

"In previous exercises the attacks were more coordinated, so you have had two or three different cells attacking different venues at different times.

"What we've seen in recent times - particularly in the UK - it's low sophistication, it's small numbers of people, often lone actors. They're using vehicles, they're using knives and bladed weapons, but the impact is high and the casualties are high.

"So it's trying to recreate what we believe will be a likely scenario, should it occur."

Bernard Higgins
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins (R) said people in Edinburgh should not be alarmed ( Andrew Milligan/PA)

He added: "This is an exercise - it's not because we know something is going to happen or we believe something is going to happen. There is absolutely no intelligence to suggest that Scotland is going to be a specific target of terrorism at any point in the future.

"People in the Edinburgh area today and over the next few days, please don't be alarmed if you see lots of blue lights and sirens or if you hear gunshots.

"It is blank cartridges we're using, but it's trying to recreate the pressure and the tension that the first responders will be feeling at the scene and the senior officers and staff will be feeling back in the operations room."

Role-playing dead man
A man plays the role of a dead person (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Other bodies involved in the three-day exercise include Northumbria Police, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, North East Ambulance Service, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue services, Transport Scotland, NHS Scotland, NHS England and the Ministry of Defence.

City of Edinburgh, Angus and Northumberland County councils are also testing their responses to a terrorist incident.

The Home Secretary said: "The events of this year have shown why it is vital that the emergency services, Government and agencies prepare and rehearse our response to potential terrorist attacks.

Ambulance personnel
Ambulance personnel taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise (Andrew Milligan/PA)

"The professionalism with which front line services dealt with the atrocities in London and Manchester is in part due to the planning and practice that goes into exercises like this."

Officers said they will inform people in local residential and business areas close to the exercise so as not to raise alarm through noise or a large presence of emergency services.

Assistant Chief Constable Darren Best of Northumbria Police said: "This exercise has been organised to test the response of the emergency services and other partner agencies to a cross-border incident. It is in no way linked to a specific or increased threat in our region.

"We regularly carry out exercises to test contingency plans and the co-ordination of the response to a major incident to ensure we are prepared to keep our communities safe."