The final cost for policing in the aftermath of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury is expected to exceed £10 million for Wiltshire Police alone. However, the total figure for all services could be far higher when costs incurred by the Metropolitan Police, whose counterterror officers led the investigation, are ultimately taken into account. More than £7m of Wiltshire Police’s bill will cover the cost of drafting in extra officers from 40 other forces, with more than £1.3m being spent on overtime for local officers and staff. This doesn’t include the cost to the supporting services and the NHS.
The impact to the city itself is yet to be defined publicly but some estimates are that the city lost from lack of trade, footfall and sheer visitor numbers up to 80% of its annual revenue, it will be a city forever defined and remembered by many as the site of the nerve agent attack. Public fear of being exposed to potentially harmful substance is a driver in crowd and visitor behaviour, there would be an effect upon the willingness of individuals to visit or transit through that location for some time, although eventually that fear will decline for many, but not all. The consequences of such an attack occurring in the financial area of Canary Wharf, attractions for tourists in the West End, or a major transport hub such as Victoria/Kings Cross, long after the major incident teams and casualties counted, the fiscal cost could be felt for years. Based on available information and the limitations as they are understood right now, the likelihood of there being a large scale chemical attack on the UK can currently be considered as low, but the impact of such an attack would be extremely high.
The likelihood of such a mass casualty attack is more difficult to assess as there are many variable factors to be applied, from type of agent used, whether it is lethal or an incapacitating, the dispersal method, even weather conditions have an impact. Public reaction to it is also very relevant, as it is probable that injuries and even fatalities could occur, as large numbers of people rush to escape a threat. Even if they are not actually affected by the agent itself, the panic caused by an unknown killer is severe. There is also a toxicity threshold which must be reached before many chemical weapons can have a lethal effect. This varies according to the agent, but it is a consideration when targeting a large, public, open area. This therefore drives targeted areas to more confined spaces.
Capability varies enormously between those nation states and terrorist groups eager to possess such weapon systems; we know that Jihadist groups have been trialling different chemical weapons for years in the mountains of Afghanistan and more recently in Syria. The science surrounding chemical properties, how to produce certain chemicals, and information about those materials used as chemical weapons, is already available and provided in great detail. The internet provides huge amounts of information to fill knowledge gaps, with a straightforward google search able to deliver very detailed information on the range of chemicals, their properties and their availability. However these agents are dangerous to manufacture safely, even in small quantities, and a significant level of knowledge and skill would be needed to manage the risks posed in their production.
And we have witnessed how nation states have used Novichok (Salisbury attacks) and VX (Kuala Lumpur) for targeted assassinations.
Chemical Weapons are designed to inspire terror. People don’t forget the often-regurgitated images of Litvinenko in his hospital bed, or the amount of treatment the Skripals reportedly had, to survive the attack against them. We have to be mindful that chemical weapons are largely ineffective over a large area and duration, but the psychological effect of an attack cannot have greater impact on individuals and States, and will last a lot longer than the physical effect of an attack.
Events around Christmas 2018 at London Gatwick showed how little emphasis is placed on contingency planning around known threats, how resilient would your business be in the event of a catastrophic event?
Simon Giddins MSyl
Simon is a leading international security specialist with extensive experience managing complex teams in often challenging dynamic environments. He proudly heads the team at Blackstone Consultancy.
Prior to this, Simon spent several years in a senior position with Aegis Defence Services managing private and government clients internationally. His education was provided by spending 15 years in the British Army, serving on several operational deployments, including a detachment with SO15-Counter Terrorist Command.
Simon is a Member and advocate of the Security Institute, and in October 2015 he was awarded the ‘Freedom of the City of London’ through the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals, where he is clothed in the Livery.