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Major counter-terrorism exercise at Heathrow Airport

16 May 2018

THE METROPOLITAN Police, emergency services and Heathrow Airport carried out a major live-play exercise at Heathrow to test their joint response to a terrorist incident.

The multi-agency exercise, codenamed ‘Raptor’, was carried out over two days and involved more than 1200 people including responders from blue-light services, counter-terrorism investigation teams and Heathrow staff, as well as numerous volunteers playing the role of casualties. It is not being carried out in response to any specific threat or intelligence.

The exercise played out in the decommissioned Terminal 1 building at Heathrow, which was specially reopened by Heathrow to allow emergency services to run the exercise. Decommissioned terminals like Terminal 1 are extremely rare, and provide a unique environment to test out responses to incidents in a real setting, whilst allowing for an extreme amount of control.

This follows four similar, but smaller-scale exercises, which took place at Terminal 1 during June and July last year. Details have not been released until now in order to preserve the integrity of the exercises for those participating.

The two-day scenario began on Saturday 12 May and involved an armed terrorist attack scenario taking place in the terminal building. It tested the initial armed police response to deal with and neutralise the immediate threat to the public. The scenario also tested the police response to hostage and siege situations. This was then followed by the respective search, rescue, casualty management and recovery responses from the London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade Heathrow staff also tested their own processes and procedures in partnership with the emergency services response.

Day two of the exercise, which took place on 13 May, focused on victim and casualty identification and recovery and will also test investigative and forensic recovery processes. This was carried out within the context of a major international airport and the additional complexities that brings.

Metropolitan Police lead for the exercise Superintendent Dawn Morris said: “The challenges of dealing with any major incident at an airport the size of Heathrow are, quite simply, exceptional and the learning that we and our emergency services colleagues have gained through this series of exercises has been invaluable. 

“This will not only benefit us in London, but we will share any learning we can with other forces and airports across the country.

“I would like to thank Heathrow, who have given us this fantastic opportunity to really test our officers and staff in a genuine airport environment. It’s been a great learning experience for all of us; right from planning the exercises, through to their delivery and seeing and understanding how each agency operates so we can improve working relationships on all levels.

“I must also stress that this exercise was not carried out in response to any specific threat or intelligence and it forms part of our ongoing programme of exercising for various types of major incidents.

“Given that the threat level remains at ‘severe’, I hope that this kind of joint exercise reassures the public that if the worst were to happen, then we are ready and fully prepared to respond and keep people safe.”

Heathrow Airport chief operating officer Chris Garton added: “The safety and security of our passengers and airport colleagues 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. What’s more, exercises like Raptor allow us to identify areas to strengthen and collaborate on in our partnership with the emergency services and police so the likelihood of an incident like this taking place can be even further reduced. 

We are proud to have taken part in such a complex and important exercise, and we will work with our partners to share the lessons we have learnt.”

This exercise is testing a number of different functions within the Met including command and control, intelligence, firearms response, communications, and counter-terrorism investigation. Specialist teams from the London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service (LAS) were also involved in the exercise.

Around 500 volunteers from MPS and LAS also wore special effects make-up to look like realistic wounds in order to expose the first responders taking part in the exercise to the types of injuries that they might face should they be dealing with it for real.

The exercise at Heathrow follows a series of other major live-play, multi-agency exercises in recent years including Exercise ‘Anchor’ in March 2017, which was the response to a staged terrorist attack on the river Thames and Exercise ‘Treblerope’ in December 2016, which was a three-day counter-terrorism exercise at various locations across London including the Royal Mint and Canary Wharf.

The terrorism threat level in the UK remains at ‘severe’ meaning an attack is ‘highly likely’. In recent months, the Met has rolled out a number of specialist counter-terrorism teams across London as part of Project Servator, which includes deployment of Servator teams at Heathrow. The specially-trained officers combine covert deployments and highly visible patrols to detect, deter and disrupt individuals with terrorist or criminal intent.