FCO launches crisis centre

The Foreign Office has upgraded its Consular Crisis Centre in order to improve assistance to British citizens stranded abroad.

Speaking at the launch of the centre – just days before Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast of America – Foreign Secretary William Hague said the capacity of Britain’s consular response had been insufficient last year when faced with the multiple crises of the New Zealand Earthquake, Japanese Tsunami and the Arab Spring.

“With this new Crisis Centre, for the first time we will be able handle two large scale events simultaneously,” he said, adding that the centre would be innovative and make the most of emerging tools of communication, such as Twitter and Facebook.

The centre has a permanent staff of 28 and a total surge capacity of 110 during a crisis. Situated in the basement of the Foreign Office, it has a video wall for multiple live feeds, while information comes from government agencies such as the British Geological Survey, for alerts on earthquakes and tsunamis, and the Health Protection Agency, for news on emerging pandemics.

At the event, the video wall displayed a map showing 13 countries where British consuls had provided assistance over the past year, including evacuating diplomats from Tehran and aiding passengers after the sinking of the Costa Concordia.

Foreign Secretary William Hague at the FCO’s upgraded consular Crisis Centre