There has been much nonsense written about why my company ran an exercise on 7 July 2005 that had very close parallels to the real thing that day. Since then I have made several attempts to add my own comments to numerous sites that seem to get increasingly excited about their own conspiracy theories and in the process exclude any rational debate. It seems those who occupy the world of finding conspiracy theories to replace just about any coincidence, do not want to have any dialogue with those offering a different view, but I have not yet given up hope. I am therefore hoping, perhaps naively, that someone might like to read an honest and factual account about a particular exercise my company ran in London three years ago.
Unfortunately, the BBC have just postponed a programme in their ‘conspiracy files’ series that would have done this. Our client three years ago agreed to be named in the BBC programme since the attitude of the producer and his team was very balanced (several conspiracy theorists were also invited to take part). We even allowed our complete exercise material to be made available to the BBC. Regrettably broadcasting it now might jeopardise an ongoing court case, so they had little choice about postponing it to next year.
Early in 2005 Reed Elsevier, an organisation specialising in information and publishing that employs 1,000 people in and around London, asked us to help them prepare an effective crisis management plan and rehearse it before sign-off. Several draft scenarios were drawn up and the crisis team themselves set the exercise date and time: 9.00am on 7 July.
The test was planned as a table-top walk through for about six people (the CM team) in a lecture room with all injects simulated. Everything was on MS PowerPoint. The location of their Central London office near to Chancery Lane was chosen as one test site. With many staff travelling to work via the London underground system, the chosen exercise simulated incendiary devices on three trains, very similar to a real IRA attack in 1992, as well as other events.
As there had been eighteen terrorist bomb attacks on tube trains prior to 2005, choosing the London Underground was logical rather than just prescient. With this in mind it was hardly surprising that Deutsche Bank had run a similar exercise a few days before and, prior to that, a multi-agency (and much publicised) exercise code-named Osiris II had simulated a terrorist attack at Bank tube station. Moreover, I had also taken part in a BBC Panorama programme in 2004 as a panellist alongside Michael Portillo MP et al, in an unscripted debate (we had no idea at all what the scenario was to be?) on how London might once again, deal with terrorist attacks, only this time it was fictional (created entirely by the BBC).
In short, some of the research for our exercise had already been done. The scenario developed for our client even started by using fictitious news items from the Panorama programme then, as with any walk through exercise, events unfolded solely on a screen as dictated by the facilitator without any external injects or actions beyond the exercise room. Also factored into the scenario was to be an above ground fictitious bomb exploding not far from the head office of the protected Jewish Chronicle magazine where for exercise purposes, our imagined terrorists would have been aware that commuters would now be walking to work (past a building already considered a target) as some tube stations would have been closed.
Of just eight nearby tube stations that fell within possible exercise scope, three were chosen that, by coincidence, were involved in the awful drama that actually took place on 7 July 2005. A level of scenario validation that on this occasion, we could have done without.
An exercise that turns into the real thing is not that unusual. For example, in January 2003, thirty people were injured when a tube train derailed and hit a wall at speed. At the same time, the City of London Police were running an exercise for their central casualty bureau where the team quickly abandoned their plans and swung into action to cope with the real thing.
For a surprising number of people such coincidents cannot be accepted as such. There just has to be a conspiracy behind them, despite the obvious point that painstaking research will always identify probable above possible scenarios. By the way, the only reason I was asked to speak on TV news that day, when there was still much confusion about the real tragedies, was to encourage more organisations to thoroughly plan their own exercises knowing the threat of terrorism is and remains, very real. One tragic consequence being Islam, a great Abrahamic, monotheistic faith (along with Judaism and Christianity), has undeservedly become vilified by some people.