In a secret underground location in Paris, France, an operational team is working 24/7 in crisis management rooms, poised and ready for any catastrophe that could strike the city. The team, trained to react to emergencies, and equipped with the latest technology, has managed the operation since 2011, well before the Paris attacks of 2015. It was from this center that all operations following the attacks of 13th November were coordinated.
A huge amount of data comes into the space constantly, with different departments collaborating in their responses to it. The organisation, run by military unit BSPP, has its own dedicated health team, which includes a doctor, a nurse and two operators linking the operational centre to hospitals and ambulances. BSPP’s role is to strategize, plan and anticipate, and it works closely with the state in order to think through and adapt their planned responses. According to BSPP, the chain of command coordinating this process has been vastly ameliorated over the past year.
Each Saturday, staff undertake training exercises, recreating real-life scenarios in order to practice solving complex operational situations and improve synergy between different services taking part in the crisis management of the Parisian metropolitan area. On October 1, 2016, on the invitation of the fire service of Paris, Magnum’s Jean Gaumy became the first photographer allowed to witness such a drill.
On this particular occasion, the exercise simulated terrorist attacks across Paris, which included car bombings, confrontations with police and demonstrations, and another simultaneous attack at a kindergarten and a high school, with at least 50 dead and around 100 injured, in need of urgent care. Gaumy photographed the teams as they executed their coordinated response.
In an interview with French magazine VSD, Général Philippe Boutinaud, ex firefighter-parachutist, who has been head of the BSPP since 1 August 2015, said:
“The attacks in Madrid in 2004, in London the following year, in Paris in 2015 and in Nice in 2016, have prompted the regular organization of training exercises that bring together the full gamut of the police and emergency response forces…. […] We must prepare ourselves with humility and adapt ourselves to an ever-changing threat, which menaces the symbols of democracy, including schools. The uncertainty and unpredictability of these events leads us to exercise prudence. Our duty to protect the population must be a long-term plan for constant vigilance. This is what we are preparing for. Our best protection methods are rigorous training in the actions that save lives, so that citizens may not feel entirely distraught when faced with an extreme situation.”