The continuing search for the container of nerve agent used to poison five people in England - killing one of them - is a reminder of how laborious and logistically difficult it is to deal with attacks of this nature. And it’s reminded me of the extraordinary professionalism of the emergency services involved - staffed by people just like you and me, but facing deadly circumstances.
Just recently I’ve completed another narration which will be used to train people like those. And even without the news from Salisbury, the words I’m reading out are coldly impressive - in two ways.
First, there’s the sheer volume of intricate detail involved in, for example, simply loading an emergency response vehicle with the right equipment, knowing where things are, and how they work. From breathing apparatus to defibrillators to drones, some rather special people in our midst know how they all operate.
Even just putting on a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear protection suit is an involved, multi-stepped, highly-sequenced, slow process which you must not get wrong, in peril of your life.
The second factor that strikes me is how relatively dull my scripts are - necessarily so - not only because of the amount of information to be imparted. But also to take some emotional weight out of them...
I can’t give much detail for reasons of confidentiality.
But one sentence I read recently talked about the location of “…two green bags containing large and small CBRN body bags”.
That was an improvement on an earlier version of the script which talked about “…adult and paediatric CBRN body bags”.
The script referred to…
Because, when you step back from it, you realise that you’re talking about the storage of children’s bodies, after a vile attack or horrible accident. They will have become too contaminated to handle without extreme care.
A part of the training that emergency services staff receive warns about the trauma of dealing with real people in real circumstances. I’ve received a small amount of similar training myself, and it does knock the stuffing out of you. It ceases only to be an exercise, when you can imagine the faces of the victims you might encounter.
A director once told me of a film he’d made (and I narrated) in which he interviewed some of the doctors who dealt with the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks in 2015. More than one surgeon talked of the additional trauma of seeing “people like us - especially children” in such numbers, so torn apart, in a war-like fashion.
When I began reporting in Northern Ireland 30 years ago, I quickly came to the opinion that the greatest obscenity was how regular folks were suddenly forced to face - close-up - the most bloody atrocities, in the middle of their everyday lives.
But that does apply, too, to people who’ve been briefed to deal with the extraordinary.
I’m not sure any training will quite prepare you for that.