Civil Defence today

The National attack Warning System

The new National Attack Warning System (or NAWS) is a system developed in conjunction with the BBC and BT (along with other suppliers) to warn the nation in a time of war. It would warn of impending missile strike via TV, Radio and Phone (depending on your location).

The system was completed by 2003 (having started mid 90's) but most likely completed by 2000 and is now "maintained in a state of readiness during peacetime such that final additional stages of work can be quickly completed in a time of tension to bring it up to full operational readiness".

NAWS is primarily a system which enables a message to be broadcast even if the system has been sabotaged or damaged.

Key facts:

  • All technical & procedural work is now completed
  • The system costs between £200-£400k per year
  • When ready it can broadcast a message within 60 seconds
  • The public would be warned to listen to the TV and or Radio to receive the warning
  • Now (during peacetime) the BBC would broadcast using their normal broadcasting procedures and can transmit within 10 minutes when told to, or 30 minutes when not.
  • The system is capable of broadcasting after an attack
  • The system uses existing BBC transmitters - based "around existing tranmission arrangements" but only "dedicated" transmitters within the network
  • BT would broadcast the warning message to remote ("certain") areas
  • A warning could be triggered by RAF High Wycombe - the "warning centre" which receives its inbound warning from Menwith Hill
  • The system "uses remotely controlled switching equipment" to connect to the tranmitters

The information above comes from Hansard and not much further information exists in the public. Which transmitters are connected to the system or where the remote switches are, are top secrets and rightly so!

2012 update - following a freedom of information request it appears that NAWS is no longer a key player on the Civil Defence front. "the nature of the risks we face and technological developments mean that it is no longer an indispensable part of our civil protection infrastructure and robust warnings can be delivered in other ways". In reality this is because the TV and Radio are limited in warning ability and it is an analogue system not digital (where analogue TV is now defunct and analogue radio may be in the next 5-10 years). But ... it is still part of our "civil protection infrastructure".

Wartime broadcasting service

The ability for the system to broadcast after an attack means that it has replaced the previous Wartime broadcasting service, based around the BBC at Wood Norton and regional broadcasts from the bunkers.

We know that the Pindar bunker in Whitehall has a broadcasting studio and the bunker still exists at Wood Norton so quite where/how post attack broadcasts would work is unclear. In effect though this one system covers 2 previous Cold War systems.

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