Major exercise tests Gibraltar’s response to marauding terror attack

Gibraltar’s law enforcement agencies and emergency services were put to the test on Thursday during a major exercise designed to rehearse the response to a marauding terrorist attack on the Rock.

Ernest Danino, deputy civil contingencies coordinator, said the exercise was part of an annual training program and not in response to any heightened state of alert over global security concerns.

But rehearsing the response to fast-moving crisis situations is vital to ensure coordination, preparedness and skills, as well as allowing senior managers to identify weaknesses and learn lessons.

Those involved in the response knew only that an exercise was taking place. They had no inkling of where or what though.

The initial exercise scenario envisaged a vehicle driving into a crowd waiting to enter The Mount and a terrorist jumping out of the car to attack people with a knife.

In the scenario, another terrorist then threw a petrol bomb into the building, which resulted in casualties, fires and various injuries.

The exercise was designed to stretch reactions and assess how the police handled apprehending the terrorists, and how emergency services responded to the rescue inside the building including dealing with the fire, trapped individuals and people with severe injuries and bleeding.

It tested too the deployment of assets and the coordination among different emergency services and a strategic group handling international repercussions.

The exercise scenario was not limited to The Mount and included subsequent incidents designed to stretch the response capability and see how the reaction unfolded.

The first was an intruder at the home of the Governor of Gibraltar, The Convent. Here security guards were tasked with dealing with the situation.

Later in the afternoon, the third scenario unfolded when a terrorist who had escaped from the attack at The Mount had been spotted.

In the scenario, he attacked and killed a member of the public and was then cornered. The armed response came on the scene and “neutralised” him.

As part of the exercise, a tactical coordinating group was set up at New Mole House to control the number of assets deployed to different places as the incidents unfolded.

Separately, a strategic coordinating group was set up in No.6 Convent Place bringing together the heads of different emergency services and Ministry of Defence, as well as ministers and senior government officials tasked with coordinating the broader response including dealing with any international issues arising from the inicident.

“It's been a very good reaction by all emergency services,” Mr Danino said after the exercise.

“We've got loads of players coming in today, which is good to see. The reaction has been very quick.”

“We had the first emergency services on scene just a few minutes after the call.”

“There's obviously a few lessons learned but I see a very good effort by everybody that's coming here.”

“It has been an improvement from previous exercises and I'm pretty happy with how the day has gone.”

“I am very pleased with the numbers of emergency services here.”

“I can see two or three crews from the fire brigade, about three different ambulances, a number of policemen, and they are still moving around and treating the causalities and taking it quite seriously. So I'm very pleased with that."

Exercises of this scale and nature would not be possible without the role players, some of whom had to pretend they were seriously injured.

A number of them embraced this role with fervour, with one woman who was trapped under a car constantly screaming for help and using swear words as another man hounded officers and fire fighters regarding what happened.

“The role players make or break an exercise,” said Mr Danino.

“If you get role players who are not in it, if you don't get the realism in there, it doesn’t work.”

In a real-life situation, emergency responders would have to deal not just with the unfolding crisis but with people who may be angry and panicked because relatives or friends have been injured or are missing.

“So they would be shouting and running around and getting the emergency services to help treat the casualties,” Mr Danino said.

“That's what I've tried to give to the people today and the role players behaved wonderfully and I'm really happy and thankful to them for the effort they put in today.”