More than 200 Met Police officers and staff took part in the ‘Exercise Anchor’ drill, which also involved the Port of London Authority, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, RNLI, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service.
The mock terrorist hijacking of a tourist boat was the first joint major live-play exercise to test the response of the emergency services to a terrorist threat on the Thames.
To avoid panic and make sure the media and public knew the terror drill was not a real attack, the Met’s comms team gave an embargoed briefing and interviews last Thursday.
It also arranged for a pool camera on a police boat along with more interviews on the day itself, and used the Met’s social media channels to inform the public what was going on.
One of the reasons for the public nature of the exercise, which received widespread coverage, was to provide some reassurance to people, according to Ed Stearns, the Met's head of media.
"It is important that the public are aware that we are continually preparing and exercising for a major incident. With the threat level at severe – meaning an attack is highly likely – we need to reassure Londoners and visitors that London is preparing a professional response should the worst happen."
Part of the police force’s comms strategy for dealing with the unthinkable is to educate the media about the nature of a major incident response. This includes "engagement events" with journalists to discuss how an attack would be responded to and "some of the issues that might crop up for the police, public communication and the media during a major incident."
Stearns explained: "We use exercises like Sunday’s to test and tweak our communication response. On Sunday, we facilitated the real media to tell the story of the exercise but also had a team of Met comms staff in the exercise so we could test our comms response."
In the event of an actual attack, the Met would be "committed to getting verified, accurate information to the public as quickly as possible", so long as it did not impact any ongoing operation.
Stearns said: "Our immediate priority would be to use communication to save life. We would be putting out messaging via our main Twitter feed @metpoliceuk to give information to those who might be involved in the situation – such as Run, Hide, Tell – and those who may be travelling towards danger."
He added: "Communicating with the public – be it directly through our channels or through the media – is a vital part of any policing operation during a time of crisis."
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