Testing for Terror: Preparing for the Unthinkable at London Olympics
The bells of St Clement Danes Church on The Strand chimed on the hour at 10 a.m. Gray clouds hung low over traffic-filled streets and the cold chilled to the bone.
So a pretty typical February day in central London.
It became untypical at around 11, after two young men walked out of nearby Aldwych underground, or subway, station. A few minutes later, a public announcement instructed everybody to leave the building. The trickle of commuters leaving the station became a torrent. Some of them were irate, demanding an explanation from subway workers and police. Others held their heads or limbs, seemingly wounded and in shock.
Sirens screamed and a helicopter hovered above. Police vans, ambulances, fire trucks and a large green tent for the wounded clogged the narrow lane outside the station. Dozens of first responders — fire fighters in helmets and black-and-yellow outfits, ambulance workers, police officers and delighted-looking bomb-sniffing dogs — milled around on the street.
The bad news: Word was that an explosive device had partially detonated deep in the Tube.
The good news: It was all part of a two-day drill on Wednesday called Operation Forward Defensive involving thousands of emergency personnel and volunteers.
Dozens of journalists and officials were observing an exercise of how emergency services, London City Hall, transport officials, Olympic organizers, the government and counter-terrorism units would react to a terrorist attack during this summer’s games. According to the scenario, there had been an “incident” in Oxford Street Station, a major transport artery, on August 8, 2012, judged to be one of the busiest days during the Olympics.