Is London Underground's radio network unable to cope with another bomb attack?
Forgive me coming over all Daily Mail for a moment, but when will we ever learn? Yesterday's London Assembly report into the July 7th attacks say that "if another major incident occured emergency crews would not be able to communicate with the surface because their radios do not work underground. Tube drivers would be unable to talk directly to passengers to reassure and guide them in the darkness".
Reports after emergenices are inevitably going to end up pointing fingers and say, 'well if this was working this wouldn't have happened', or 'if we could have done this, more lives would have been saved'. We can have these sorts of arguments until the cows come home, but to me, the only point in having them is if we can learn something for the future.
The report has called for a unified radio system to let 999 services work underground. Fortunately, the report as outlined by the Evening Standard had nothing but praise for the emergency services on July 7th. Difficulties and delays in communications had a "minimal impact" and the services "responded well to the incidents against an immediate backdrop of confusion and poor telecommunications".
However, it makes 63 recommendations, a number of which are focussed on poor radio communications between Tube drivers and line controllers. One of the Assembly investigators compared the "antiquated" system to communications that we had in the First World War. "I have been down in tunnels with all the lights switched off. It's instant blindness. For those passengers to be trapped down there and to have temperatures hitting 110 degrees, with the dirt and smoke and injured, it's at that point where they really do need to have reassurance. We owe it to them to get communications sorted out". Apparently he has been assured that a new radio system will be in place by the end of 2007. We'll have to wait and see.
Andrew Gilligan, well used to digging up dirt, is happy to do more finger pointing and points his finger much more firmly at ministers. After the King's Cross fire, a recommendation was made to fit the Tube with a better radio network. Gilligan reminds us that was "a mere 17 years before the 7/7 attacks". The Government's response to poor communications & surveillance of suspects, or as Gilligan says "shameful failings in the absolute basics", is a "frenzied burst of new tough talking, iniatiative-mongering and law making, intended to look like 'decisive action' but whose only effect is to put further pressure on a misfiring system". He concludes that "We are probably no safer now than we were on 6th July. And that is the real worry."
So what do you think? A tough but fair conclusion or do you feel the Government has done a lot to protect us? Are moves such as putting metal detectors at Tube stations part of the "frenzied burst of tough talking" too?