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Emergency response to Beirut blast

In August 2020, a catastrophic explosion caused extensive damage to a large area of Beirut. The blast, said to be equivalent to a 3.3-magnitude earthquake, was heard as far away as Cyprus and damaged the British Embassy and embassy staff residential properties.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) needed to quickly make sure their staff were able to work safely and securely. This meant they had to find out what damage the explosion caused to their buildings and make them safe.

What we did

Our teams swiftly reviewed the impact on both physical and technical security. We started by carrying out a rapid inspection of the embassy. Once we knew the issues, we urgently worked to make buildings safe. We also inspected over 50 residential apartments damaged by the blast, and organised the necessary work to fix them.

In the first few days we proactively reached out to a range of International Partners through our regional teams based in Europe, Americas and Asia Pacific. We offered expert technical security and estates support and advice from our team, which was already deployed in Beirut.

Our teams then coordinated remedial works to ensure the long-term safety and security of the mission. This included repairing damage to ceilings, lights and the British Embassy fa├žade.

This work was coordinated and led by our Middle East and Africa team. The team is based in the region, partly to make sure they can respond quickly to emergencies like this and so our customers know who to turn to in times of need.

Dealing with challenges

There were several challenges that made this difficult. Covid-19 made it harder to get specialists in to Beirut and complete the urgent work safely. Restricted communications, flash lockdowns and security alerts also presented hurdles.

Despite this complex and fragile environment, our team worked tirelessly to restore and secure the buildings. We used speed, expertise and effective communication to successfully respond to this emergency. Teams from across FCDO Services collaborated to make sure the mission was made safe.

We are very grateful for the professionalism, pragmatism, hard work and flexibility shown by the FCDO Services team supporting us from the immediate aftermath of the devastating explosion, which impacted all our homes and the Embassy, through to repairing the Embassy, despite all the challenges of COVID-19, travel restrictions, security and supply chain disruption.
Alyson King, DHM Beirut, Lebanon