If Roswell Happened Today (Part 1)

By Nick Pope


One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is what the MoD would do if a UFO crashed (or indeed landed) in the UK. Is there a plan? Who would be involved? Would the government try to cover it up? In this two-part article I'll be setting out the issues and - hopefully - fuelling some discussion and debate. In relation to the issue of genuine extraterrestrial contact, there are a range of scenarios that could arise. These fall into four broad categories and I shall deal with the first three relatively quickly, before focusing on the idea of a UFO crash, as this latter concept - largely due to Roswell - is so embedded in the minds of the UFO community.

Alien Invasion

Scenario one is an alien invasion and there's little that I can say about this that isn't wild speculation. In a field where it's foolhardy to make assumptions (I've often heard ufologists make bold statements beginning with phrases such as "well, aliens wouldn't do that because ...") one of the few logical assumptions we can legitimately make is that any extraterrestrials visiting Earth will have a more advanced technology than ours, on the basis that they will have viable interstellar travel, whereas our space programme is in its infancy. Despite the odds, it's in our nature to fight and I speculated what might happen in my my two science fiction novels, Operation Thunder Child and Operation Lightning Strike - the only sci-fi novels ever to have needed government clearance prior to publication. Incidentally, in October 2007, US Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani was asked by an 8 year old boy how the US would respond if it did ever encounter hostile extraterrestrials. He said that the US would deal with the situation, but he was clearly unprepared for the question and had no real idea what to say. Go to You Tube and put the two words "Giuliani" and "alien" into the search box, if you want to watch the exchange.

Benign First Contact

Scenario two is almost as speculative as scenario one, so again, there's little one can say. As with scenario one, the reasonable assumption is that if 'they' discover you, 'they' are your technological superiors. This is one of the more interesting concepts in a paper entitled "UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions", which can be found on the NSA website and which explores some of these speculative issues about contact with extraterrestrials. Suffice to say, given that visiting extraterrestrials are likely to be our technological superiors, it's more likely than not that they would set the agenda. Needless to say, it's to be hoped that benign first contact would include exchanges of information that might lead to our acquiring considerable scientific knowledge and technology.

Finding a Signal

Scenario three is the detection of a signal by means of radio astronomy. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) community is an active one and indeed 11 October 2007 was inauguration day for the Allen Telescope Array, which the SETI Institute believes will "shift SETI into third gear". Even that pales into insignificance when compared to the power of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), where construction is scheduled to begin in 2011, with the facility fully operational by 2020. Many in the SETI community believe that if there are civilizations using radio anywhere within 100 light years of Earth, SKA will be able to detect them. I often wish that the UFO community and the SETI community got along better. It seems to me that you want the same thing and that the only thing that sets you apart is your methodology. Like it or not, SETI is going from strength to strength and I've said before that I think it far more likely that proof that we're not alone will come from the SETI community rather than from ufologists. As to what would happen if a signal was found, a "Post-Detection SETI Protocol" has been drafted by the International Academy of Astronautics. While not legally binding, it's probably the best available guide to how the scientific community should respond and what issues are likely to arise. A quick Google search will turn up the document.

UFO Crash

Our fourth and final scenario is the idea of a UFO crash. Of course, there will be those who say that this has already happened, in places such as the Berwyn Mountains, Cannock Chase or even the Llandegla Moors near Wrexham. Personally, I do not find the evidence for such British UFO crashes compelling, though as ever, I try to keep an open mind. Returning to our scenario, again, there are many variables. But we have to start somewhere, so let's take a hypothetical situation and run with it. Let's suppose that a UFO crashes in a remote part of the UK. The first question is, would there be any witnesses? Even when aircraft crash in remote areas, TV news reports almost invariably turn up a witness who saw - or at least heard - something, so the chances are, it would be noticed. As with Roswell, it's statistically likely that the first witness or witnesses would be members of the public. The next question is, who are they going to call? Despite the UFO community's focus on the MoD, people's basic instinct will be to call the police and - if they think an aircraft has crashed - the other emergency services.

The Police

It's likely that the police will be first responders and again, there are all sorts of variables. It may be that they are confronted by a debris field of unidentifiable wreckage, or it may be that a more obvious craft is recognisable. Dependant upon what it looks like (and on issues such as whether any extraterrestrial entities - dead or alive - are found) they may assume it's an alien spacecraft, or a terrestrial satellite, aircraft or UAV. In either event, their first action should be to cordon off the site and treat it as a crime scene. Follow up actions will include locating and interviewing witnesses, and recovering and analyzing evidence. They may decide to call in the Ministry of Defence Police or the Service (i.e. military) Police, but the local Chief Constable would have primacy, even if others had jurisdiction.

MoD and the Military

Notwithstanding the Chief Constable's jurisdiction and primacy, he or she would probably, sooner rather than later, decide to call in the MoD and the military. Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) is often requested at times of national crisis or when large numbers of trained, disciplined people are required. MACA has taken place in the aftermath of floods, the Lockerbie disaster, the foot and mouth disease outbreak and the fuel crisis, to name just a few incidents. For those that want to do further research into this, a number of publications are available. "Military Aid to the Civil Community in the UK - a pamphlet for the guidance of Civil Authorities and Organisations" - the so-called Blue Book - is available from HMSO. "MACA in UK in Peace" is an internal MoD document sometimes referred to as the Green Book. Finally, there is a Home Office publication entitled "Dealing with Disaster", that provides the framework within which the more detailed plans of the emergency services, local authorities and other organisations are normally prepared. All of these documents provide some clues as to how a UFO crash might be handled, as does the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for an aircraft crash. In other words, while there's no specific plan for a UFO crash, there are plans and processes that could quickly be adapted. But will "quickly" be good enough?


The biggest single issue that might arise is a potential biological hazard. In "The War of the Worlds", terrestrial microbes prove deadly to the invading Martians. In reality, the potential hazard is just as likely to work in reverse. The police would automatically cordon the crash site, because this is an action that would spring automatically from their training, but would they think to test for a biohazard or take any actions to mitigate the risk? This is less clear. Of course, the MoD has various equipment and specialists that can help with detection and decontamination. Readers may recall seeing television reports of a recent exercise designed to test the response to a chemical or biological terrorist attack on the London Underground. But in all of this, timing is critical and if nobody thinks to call such equipment and personnel to the site of a UFO crash immediately, vital time is lost and the chances of containing a biohazard diminish rapidly. Faced with an extraterrestrial bacteria or virus against which we would have no defence, the worst case scenario is nothing short of the death of every living organism on the face of our planet. If such a disease was seen to be spreading out from the crash site, a British Prime Minister may have to consider using any means available - including the use of nuclear weapons - to completely sterilize the area. This is why the lack of a dedicated plan for a UFO crash exposes us to a critical risk. However unlikely you think it is, there should be a plan. Using the language of risk assessment, this is the ultimate Low Probability/High Consequence (sometimes known as Low Probability/High Impact) event.

Enemy Attack and the UFO Potential

One honourable exception to the notion that there isn't a plan for this sort of thing is the second edition of the book "Fire Officer's Guide to Disaster Control", by William M. Kramer and Charles W. Bahme. Chapter 13 is entitled "Enemy Attack and the UFO Potential" and if readers Google that phrase, they'll be able to read the text. Again, it gives an insight into some of the issues that may arise and some of the ways in which a UFO crash might be dealt with. Incidentally, before anyone wonders, I have deliberately not mentioned Project Moon Dust or Project Blue Fly so far. While many ufologists believe such projects relate to the recovery of crashed or downed UFOs, I believe they were set up to ensure the timely recovery of decidedly more terrestrial (e.g. Soviet) hardware. Be that as it may, I have decided that these matters are outside the scope of this article, though some pertinent issues arise.


Another key player in our unfolding scenario is COBRA. This is the Civil Contingencies Committee, which takes its name from the room where it meets, Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, in Downing Street. COBRA met in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 7/7 attack and many other national emergencies. Attendees would vary according to the nature of the crisis, but might include the Prime Minister, senior government ministers, police and intelligence chiefs. The secretariat function is provided by civil servants in the Cabinet Office - the department that co-ordinates action when a situation involves several government departments. One issue the committee could consider is whether to invoke powers in Part Two of the Civil Contingencies Act, which gives considerable extra powers at the time of a serious emergency. Under such powers, Parliament can be suspended, freedom of movement limited, property requisitioned or destroyed. Again, a Google search on terms such as COBRA, Civil Contingencies Committee and Civil Contingencies Act will reveal much interesting and relevant information.

Next Steps

Numerous other issues arise, many of which relate to MoD's handling of the issue. Because while the Cabinet Office and COBRA would doubtless take a co-ordinating role, MoD (not least by virtue of having responsibility for policy on UFOs and investigation of sightings) would quickly emerge as the lead department. Questions that would need to be handled range from what to tell Ministers, through to how to handle the media. What would Parliament be told? And critically, for conspiracy theorists, would there be any attempt to cover up such an incident? Could it be done and what would the reason be for such an action? All this and more will be revealed in Part 2 of this article.