In the latest sign of growing concerns throughout Europe — especially in nations whose leaders supported the war in Iraq — the British government is mailing out a booklet to every home telling people to “go in, stay in and tune in” in case of a large-scale terrorist attack.
The leaflet, released Monday, tells Britons to stock up on canned food and bottled water and to keep a battery-powered radio at home — advice that was dismissed by some as merely common sense.
“It will go straight in the bin. It’s a complete waste of money, and it’s a little bit late,” said Paul Kilpatrick, 35, an executive assistant.
“I’d think it’s also going to be alarming for people who come back from two weeks’ holiday abroad and find that under their door,” added Kilpatrick as he took a lunch break at a London park.
The government is spending $15 million to print and distribute the booklet, “Preparing for Emergencies: What You Need To Know,” to all 25 million homes across Britain.
Its central message is “go in, stay in and tune in,” recommending that people stay indoors and listen to the radio for advice if there is an attack.
The 22-page pamphlet includes details on basic first aid, emergency contacts and the procedure for mass decontamination after a chemical, biological or radiological attack.
In a section on bomb attacks, it advises people to stay close to a wall and tap on pipes if they are trapped in debris. It also suggests staying away from windows, elevators and outer doors, in case of a second explosion.
‘Keeping people informed’
“This booklet reflects another stage in that process of keeping people informed,” Home Secretary David Blunkett said of the pamphlet, written by government, emergency, medical and intelligence officials.
Home Office Minister Caroline Flint stressed the booklet was not prompted by a specific threat. “At the moment, we don’t feel that there is an immediate threat, but we have to be on our guard,” she said. “If there is a specific threat, that is something we would communicate to the public.”
The booklet comes five months after train bombings killed 191 people in Madrid, and the same day a statement purportedly from an Islamic militant group linked to al-Qaida warned Italy to withdraw its forces from Iraq or face an attack that would “shake the earth.”
Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it would shake up people who have become accustomed to 24-hour convenience.
“I think people have got common sense, but they have been weaned away from risk,” said Fox. “I think it’s because we have 24-hour shops, we have 24-hour fuel and 24-hour cash. Everything you can pop out and get. People have got comfortable.”
The booklet also tells the public how they can help prevent a terrorist attack. Landlords are urged to report suspicious tenants, retailers to watch out for strange purchases and the general public to keep an eye out for any unusual activity.
For some, previously offered advice
“Our ability to prevent a terrorist attack does not depend on the authorities alone,” the pamphlet says. “How well we cope also depends on you.”
Civil servant Carol Rowntree, 30, said many people would be put off by the wordy booklet and probably discarded it along with the junk mail.
“They warned us about all this before,” she said referring to similar verbal advice from the Home Office on the eve of the war in Iraq. “They got everybody alarmed then and nothing happened.”
An English version of the booklet is available on the Home Office Web site and, from Aug. 2 it will be available there in 15 other languages — Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Kurdish, Punjabi, Somali, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh. The public will also be able to order copies in large print, Braille and on audiotape.
However, Brian Cook, a homeless man who lives in London’s parks, questioned how the information would be provided to people in his situation. “What happens to people like me? Where’s our safety?” he asked.