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Gibraltar rehearses reaction to terrorist attack

Image Courtesy Of Gibraltar Chronicle

Gibraltar practiced its response to a marauding terrorist attack this week, mobilising all emergency services, armed response police and military units in a shoot-out scenario using blank rounds, pyrotechnics and fake blood to simulate casualties.

The simulated attack at HM Naval Base formed part of the annual GIBEX exercise which was expanded this year to include agencies such as the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service and the Gibraltar Ambulance service.

British Forces Gibraltar held the annual military excercise known as Gibex throughout various locations in Gibraltar. The themes covered by the excercise are focused mainly on security and safety for the Forward Operating Base, but this year saw the inclusion of refugees arriving illegally on Gibraltar's shores or in this case the Port Harbour. Six role playing individuals arrived from sea at the Port and declared asylum, they were contained within the harbour and Security Services allerted, one needing medical attention. Another scenario included an oil spill within Her Majesty's Naval base, but the main excercise revolved around a terrorist attack within Gibraltar which was held at HMNB. All of Gibraltar Emergency Services where involved, reacting to a shooting at a school which left many civilian casualties and panic through the streets of Gibraltar. Photography by Cpl Scott Robertson - Command Photographer Gibraltar

Other simulated scenarios included ‘trigger-type’ situations, a maritime pollution exercise and scenarios involving explosive devices.

The week-long exercise came as the UK conducted its first airstrikes against Syria after MPs approved action against Islamic State targets marking an escalation in Britain’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Prior to a debriefing session yesterday, exercise Co-ordinator, Major Gareth Semple, said: “Every year as a military we do an exercise in Gibraltar and we call it GIBEX. The slight difference we had this year was that we decided to expand and we incorporated all the security agencies across Gibraltar.”

This years’ GIBEX exercise included representation from the MoD, the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police, the Gibraltar Port Authority, the Borders and Coastguard Agency, the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service, the Gibraltar Ambulance service and Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

British Forces Gibraltar held the annual military excercise known as Gibex throughout various locations in Gibraltar. The themes covered by the excercise are focused mainly on security and safety for the Forward Operating Base, but this year saw the inclusion of refugees arriving illegally on Gibraltar's shores or in this case the Port Harbour. Six role playing individuals arrived from sea at the Port and declared asylum, they were contained within the harbour and Security Services allerted, one needing medical attention. Another scenario included an oil spill within Her Majesty's Naval base, but the main excercise revolved around a terrorist attack within Gibraltar which was held at HMNB. All of Gibraltar Emergency Services where involved, reacting to a shooting at a school which left many civilian casualties and panic through the streets of Gibraltar. Photography by Cpl Scott Robertson - Command Photographer Gibraltar

He said: “It was a real multi-agency security exercise which is great for Gibraltar and in the light of recent events that have happened in the world it’s good to practice planning for such an event should it happen.”

“It’s always good to better ourselves, baby-steps if you want to call it that but it’s still good to try everybody together on the ground for the first time, seeing how their procedures work and testing how each of the different agencies operate and then trying to co-ordinate the piece so we can all work better together.”

“From that point of view it was a real success; everybody working together and across the security piece in Gibraltar.”

Despite this Major Semple said there had been a number of learning curbs arising from the exercise. He added: “But a big positive is it’s the first time we’ve ever had a joint agency approach to it and I think it worked really well.”

British Forces Gibraltar held the annual military excercise known as Gibex throughout various locations in Gibraltar. The themes covered by the excercise are focused mainly on security and safety for the Forward Operating Base, but this year saw the inclusion of refugees arriving illegally on Gibraltar's shores or in this case the Port Harbour. Six role playing individuals arrived from sea at the Port and declared asylum, they were contained within the harbour and Security Services allerted, one needing medical attention. Another scenario included an oil spill within Her Majesty's Naval base, but the main excercise revolved around a terrorist attack within Gibraltar which was held at HMNB. All of Gibraltar Emergency Services where involved, reacting to a shooting at a school which left many civilian casualties and panic through the streets of Gibraltar. Photography by Cpl Scott Robertson - Command Photographer Gibraltar

The next step, Major Semple said, is identifying lessons. He said: “We all have our own procedures to go through, everybody will have different lessons that they’ll want to bring out from the exercise so sometime next week or the week after we’ll go through each of the scenarios and sit down and try and work out where we can improve and then go again possibly in the New Year with maybe not quite as big an exercise but something maybe even a table-top just to sit down again and talk through how we can do better.”

On how prepared Gibraltar is should an attack happen, Major Semple said exercises like GIBEX can only help prepare military units and Government agencies should anything happen. “We can only practice and get better and I would say that exercises like we’ve had this week has really put us in a better place say than where we were a month ago. The more we do it the better we get at it,” Major Semple said.

Chief Superintendent Paul Richardson said that from the RGP’s perspective the exercise went “very well” having achieved all of the agency’s objectives which were to test the joint operating response in connection with the other agencies. He said: “It allowed us to test our call-out procedures, our firearms issuing procedures, our exercising cordons and, in fact, our firearm teams on the ground.”

Ch Supt. Richardson added: “There’s always a lot of learning information that falls out of exercises, there’s always things that we think we could do better and improve on for the future but the most advantageous thing we get from this is being able to work with other agencies and to test our joint response to these very difficult situations.”

British Forces Gibraltar held the annual military excercise known as Gibex throughout various locations in Gibraltar. The themes covered by the excercise are focused mainly on security and safety for the Forward Operating Base, but this year saw the inclusion of refugees arriving illegally on Gibraltar's shores or in this case the Port Harbour. Six role playing individuals arrived from sea at the Port and declared asylum, they were contained within the harbour and Security Services allerted, one needing medical attention. Another scenario included an oil spill within Her Majesty's Naval base, but the main excercise revolved around a terrorist attack within Gibraltar which was held at HMNB. All of Gibraltar Emergency Services where involved, reacting to a shooting at a school which left many civilian casualties and panic through the streets of Gibraltar. Photography by Cpl Scott Robertson - Command Photographer Gibraltar

The Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service and the Gibraltar Ambulance service were new to the GIBEX experience. Sigurd Haveland, a GHA Ambulance paramedic, said there were some bits that went “very, very well and other bits that didn’t go that well but those we’ll take forward and we’ll learn from them and obviously improve those bits that we found we were weak.”

Matthew Payas, a Divisional Officer from the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue service, said the experience was “challenging” and there had been a lot of learning outcomes.

But, he said, “That is why we do exercises to make sure that we can polish up on our standard operating procedures and interoperability between agencies and obviously try and make it as swift as possible if we ever, god forbid, get an incident of this nature.”