The name COBRA conjures up an image from an action film especially when its mention is normally connected with counter terrorism or emergency planning in the British Media. The name is actually an acronym standing rather disappointingly for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. This is the room in Downing Street London where the UK’s civil contingencies committee meets. Its role has meant that it has met to discuss the response to a wide range of subjects in recent years from Foot & Mouth disease outbreaks to the bombings on September 11th.
Those present depend on the threat/issue being discussed and normally include the British Prime Minister and senior ministers as well as the heads of the British police and Intelligence Services. Cobra will normally meet following a terrorist attack to discuss any response and how to minimize any further threat. COBRA may not always meet in the same place due to security and has several secure sites where meetings may take place including the dramatically named Citadel a secure underground complex below government buildings in London. The events need not be in the UK for COBRA to meet for example it met after the suicide bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, which targeted the British Consulate and the HSBC bank in November 2003 which killed over 60 people including the British diplomat Roger Short. It is COBRA which has the power to decide if extra emergency powers are needed by the British government at times of crisis. Such powers would require a major incident with large scale impact such as a terrorist attack involving nuclear or biological weapons. Such powers are far ranging and would only be triggered under the most extreme circumstances but can even suspend Parliament and bypass the normal legal process if felt necessary and even call a bank holiday to shut down businesses if required.