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Crisis Command

A review by Russell White

Screened: Tuesday 3rd February 2004 (21:00 to 22:00hrs).  Channel: BBC2

Crisis Command: Could You Run the Country? This programme, hosted by BBC correspondent Gavin Hewitt, was ground breaking as it gave an insight into what might happen should Great Britain encounter its own "9/11" situation. The programme announced, "three people, unknown to each other will be put in extraordinary position of power. "

They were:

Simon Woodroffe, Entrepreneur, Multi-Millionaire Founder of Yo! Sushi

Parosha Chandran, Barrister, Trustee of British institute of human rights

Dr Paul Toyne, Corporate Responsibility Consultant, Co-founder Article 13.

Each acted the part of a minister in a Crisis Command Centre. The programme began with a massive explosion at Waterloo Station in London. The cause was not made clear to the ministers, though 1000 injuries were stated as a rough figure. The first decision was "Do you only move out the serious burns victims who are certain to survive?". There were 3 experts on hand to "assist" the team, Charles Shoebridge (emergency services advisor); Sir Tim Garden (military advisor) & Amanda Platell (communications advisor). There were insufficient helicopters available to airlift all of the burns victims, and it was obvious that one could only work with the resources on hand. Yet a debate ensued over what action to take. Miss Chandran took the "how can we play God?" view and decided to move in paramedics, rather than only moving those who were certain to survive (the correct option). The NHS would not cope and ministers reduced survival rates.

Power cuts led to an underground shutdown on several lines, leaving passengers stuck in tunnels. Gridlock above ground then occurred due to the breakdown of traffic lights. Then, an aeroplane bound for Aberdeen wished to divert to Heathrow for an emergency landing. The passengers included 100 oil workers. The ministers had the option of launching RAF fighters (the military contingency plan) but they instead chose to command a divert, believing that they had sufficient time to change their decision if needed. Dr Toyne said that launching fighters would be a "knee-jerk reaction".

The military adviser (Tim Garden) advised that the fighters would need at least 20 minutes in which to set off. The pilot had already refused to divert when commanded by French air traffic control.

Eventually the fighters were launched after some prompting by the military, but valuable time was lost. The next hurdle for the ministers was the news that there had been a break-in at an electricity sub station. The "red herring" Amanda Platell, who masterminded William Hague's General election campaign (!) stated that the public had to be told of the terrorist threat, otherwise they would be "sitting ducks" and given the chance to evacuate. When discussing the aeroplane, Simon W came out with a line which will haunt him "its not a threat for the people of Central London, its only a threat to Heathrow." After some hesitation the consensus was to inform officials only, not the public - the first correct decision. Even at this stage Dr Boyne stated, "I don't think these issues are all related". What was he thinking of? Surely it was obvious to even the most casual viewer that this was a programme about a co-ordinated attack on Britain?

The ministers were asked whether they would clear the passengers from the underground network, and it was stressed to them that they were safer underground, due to the events unfolding above ground. Again Amanda Platell was on hand to offer some bad advice "you spend too much time in your ministerial cars to be aware of the terror these people will be going through, they will be so frightened". 

Miss Chandran agreed instinctively with her female adviser, but was outvoted two to one and agreed to take the correct decision to leave the passengers on the trains until more could be done for them.

The whole programme was expertly made and credit should go to the production team for setting up authentic videophone reports from the emergency services, radio link ups to the RAF "Gold One" fighter pilot and the ongoing news reports from the BBC with some familiar faces revealing the ongoing terror as it happened. Maps and charts added to the atmosphere. Superb use of pauses during the discourse between the RAF and the hijacked 'plane (by now it was obvious even to our team of dunces what had happened) as the jet was 12 minutes away from the no fire zone. The military advisor said that warning shots or flying in front are just bluffing tactics. The only way to stop the plane doing what it wants is to shoot it down. To which Dr Boyne replied, "we can't - there are 100 Americans on board".  At this point the team should have realised that the Americans were practically already dead, but they insisted upon letting the aeroplane continue on its course and attempting to negotiate with the terrorists. Clearly dumbfounded by the ministers' stupidity Tim Garden again tried to reason with them, to no avail. One wonders whether these liberals ignored him due to his military background.

The suspense was gripping as the "gold leader" RAF pilot said they had just three minutes - instructions awaited. The team were told that they would be legally protected as the plane would be treated as a missile attack on London, given the events of 9/11, but still they considered warning shots and a final warning. As the aeroplane passed the no fire zone it began to follow the Thames and hurtled to the ground. The chilling reports from the pilot said it all ?.still descending?passing tower bridge?.London eye?Jesus, flight 410 has hit parliament!"

The ministers' faces were a sight to behold. Miss Chandran buried her head in her hands, Dr Boyne gave a sickly grin which fell somewhere between irony and deep embarrassment. But Simon W was the best. He sat with his spectacles in hand, wedged against his mouth ashen-faced and then looked up, saying the immortal line "I think we made the right decision!". Everyone else in the studio/command centre looked on in disbelief at the sheer arrogance of the man. Gavin Hewitt stated solemnly "the houses of parliament are burning" Dr Boyne tried vainly to rescue the situation by asking how many people were in the Houses of Parliament at the time (no mention of the psychological damage done by the destruction of the oldest symbol of Democracy?). Then it dawned upon him that the team had decided not to evacuate..

Finally, when confronted with the news that the tunnel was due to cave in under the Thames where the first explosion had taken place, the ministers had three minutes in which to decide whether to shut the flood doors, thus trapping 500 people inside, but saving the underground network from a major flood or whether to hope that there would be sufficient time to evacuate everyone from the tunnels. The tunnel may cave in immediately or never. Shutting one door would save only half the network. Only Miss Chandran had learnt from the events by immediately saying "shut both doors". Once again Mr Woodroffe hadn't learnt and told the others to keep the doors open.

As they argued about the correct course of action they again ran out of time. The tunnel caved in and thousands died..

This programme was the best example of the liberal establishment in action. Can we expect the same catastrophic errors of judgement should similar events occur in reality? I'll leave the reader with a worrying final quote from Simon Woodroffe shown as the end credits rolled?