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Police to get ‘dirty bomb hoods' in terror alert

London Times | December 10, 2006
Daniel Foggo

POLICE forces have been told to buy anti-radiation masks for their 100,000 frontline officers to protect them in the event of a “dirty bomb” terrorist attack.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has told all forces they should look to purchase specially designed chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) hoods as soon as possible.

Senior officers are concerned that, with only 1,000 thought to have been distributed, their ability to deal with any radiation threat will be severely hampered.

The transparent “escape hoods” are able to protect the wearer from harm for about 20 minutes, allowing him or her to leave an affected area without breathing in any toxic particles.

The urgency that is being placed on the purchase of the hoods reflects the level of concern over the likelihood of a “dirty bomb” attack, where radioactive material, packed around a conventional explosive, is detonated and spreads radiation over a wide area.

The threat has been highlighted by the use of radioactive polonium-210 to kill Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “These hoods are not intended for people who need to go and deal with an incident, they are for officers who are going about their normal duties and may find themselves caught up in a CBRN situation that they and others need to escape.”

An ACPO spokesman said: “All UK police forces have been made aware of the availability of escape hoods. They have been advised by ACPO that individual forces should consider acquiring sufficient hoods to equip all patrolling officers at times of heightened threat.”

The hoods, which cost £95, can be folded into a holster the size of a hip flask. They were developed by Avon Protection in collaboration with the police's national CBRN centre in Winterbourne Gunner, Wiltshire, and have been available since October.

Avon confirmed it had sold about 1,000 hoods to the police but the company has not yet received any bulk purchases because of an apparent dispute over funding.

Chris Feltham, an Avon spokesman, said: “The Home Office, as far as I am aware, has told the constabularies that they will have to fund their own rather than through central procurement. Whether that happens is not something we have control over.”

The issue of who will pay for the hoods could become a contentious one. The Police Federation is understood to be making representations to the Home Office to ask for government funding to pay for the hoods.

The current “threat level” of a terrorist strike in Britain is judged by MI5 and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre to be “severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely.

To cope with a “dirty bomb” attack other emergency measures include 360 mobile decontamination units for use around the country by ambulances and accident and emergency departments. More than 7,000 protection suits have been provided for key health workers and a total of 4,400 high performance gas-tight suits for firefighters have also been procured.

The CBRN centre has also trained 7,000 police officers in how to deal with “dirty bomb” attacks. In the event of an incident in London main roads would be turned into “escape expressways” taking outbound traffic only to evacuate the city.

Contaminated rubble would be shipped out along the Thames to landfill sites in Essex.

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