The staunched defiance of Londoners after the recent terrorist attacks was undenyably heart-warming; no mass panic, no faffing about crying "revenge!"... I'm pleased to say that by and large the British public remain indifferent to the culture of fear that is so popular elsewhere in the world. However, there are, as always, exceptions.
Up until not too long ago, I was working in the call centre of a rather large Norfolk-based insurance company, convincing pensioners that for the few extra non-benefits on offer it was worth going without gas for a month.
The operations manager there was, to say the least, completely and utterley terrified that Osama Bin Laden was going to jump him at any moment. And unfortunately, at around the same time, this idiot had found himself in a position of some power.
In order to laud his abject terror over the rest of us, he imposed a number of 'measures' to protect us from imminent destruction.
The first of his measures, was to make some 'home-made' modifications to the current 'bomb threat evacuation procedure' (which had been drawn up many years previously with the help of the emergency services - they tend to know about these things.). One of these modifications was to change the key sentence
"Exit the building in a calm and ordered manner" to "Exit the building as quickly as possible".
Now, that might sound somewhat disturbing, perhaps conjuring images of hundreds of screaming, headset-clad maniacs, waving their arms about, fleeing and trampling each other, but it is an improvement on his first draft, which read
"First one blown up is a rotten egg!!".
I however, don't see mass panic as much of an issue in the event of a bomb scare, because as anyone who has worked in a call centre will testify, after miserable old git number 105 has ranted down the line at you for half an hour because his renewal premium's gone up by 25p even though he's "not one of these boy racer types", getting blown up does seem like a very attractive proposition.
Really, the best way to evacuate the building would be to tell everyone that all the callers have been in the queue for 35 minutes due to "technical difficulties" and then sit back and watch as everyone simultaneously dials the sickline and makes a dash for the fire exit.
The operations manager's modifications to the bomb threat evacuation procedure might well seem like the work of Al-Qaeda themselves, but his justification for it after the ensuing outcry was that "we might not just be dealing with a bomb - they could be standing outside with a surface to air (and presumably to surface again) missile and fire it through the roof - you don't know".
I think we do know. Can you imagine them planning the attack on the place?
"Well my brothers, we have spent 600, 000 dollars on this surface to air missile, spent a year and a half smuggling it piece by piece across Europe and into Britain, many of our brothers have sacrificed their freedom to keep the security services from finding out and many more have been silenced. Now, have you selected a target?"
"Yes, we have. It is the call centre of a large Norfolk-based insurance company."
"Excellent, and what will be the effect of the attack? Will it damage mass communications? Bring the country's delicate transport infrastructure to a halt? Paralyse the infidels with fear?"
"Not exactly, but they will have a slightly
reduced capacity to give car insurance quotes."
"Yes, it will take the infidels longer to get through and loads more calls will be routed through to India, it will be really annoying, especially if the infidels' car tax is due at the end of the month."
"Ah, excellent work my brothers, truly, it will be a strike against the hearts and minds of Britain."
I don't buy it somehow.