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Securing the Olympics: A marathon not a sprint?

The clock in Trafalgar Square tells us there are 106 days until the London 2012 Olympic Games begin. As the days continue to drop off the calendar, concerns over security at the Games will undoubtedly increase as the authorities hurriedly put the final measures in place to ensure the capital is a safe and sporting environment for all this summer.

At a conference on explosives and weapon detection earlier this year, James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime and Security, explained that security at the games was a top priority, and one that the UK more than prepared for.

“Our experience in security is one of the reasons that we won the bid in the first instance,” Brokenshire said.

Confidence is high then. Hugo Rosemont, Policy Advisor for Security and Resilience at trade association ADS Group, is equally optimistic, telling me in an interview last week:

“We haven’t delivered a successful Games as yet, although clearly everybody expects and intends that to be the case and has high confidence in those plans.”

One of the key threats the government is preparing for is a 9/11-style attack from the air, although there have only been whispered suggestions of this over the last few months.

In November last year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Parliament that “all necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of the London Olympic Games will be taken including, if the advice of the military is that it is required, including [sic] the appropriate ground-to-air defences.”

The announcement indicated in the strongest possible terms the government was prepared to deploy C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar) systems if necessary. Although movement on this issue has been muted of late, various sites around London have been surveyed as suitable bases for the C-RAM systems.

Tim Robinson, Editor at Aerospace International, reminds us that air traffic will see a massive increase over the summer period, which will only heighten the threat.

“During the 31-day Olympics peak period over 110,000 air movements are expected in the London area including an estimated 700 additional charter flights, together with 1,250-1,500 extra helicopter flights per day. There will also be up to 10,000 private jet flights, as well as around 240 flights carrying heads of state.”

The military’s presence at the Olympics will be keenly felt. In January, Hammond visited Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel in south west England: “The Royal Navy will form an integral part of the security operation around Weymouth during the Games, with HMS Bulwark and RFA Mounts Bay and a contingent of Royal Marines assisting the Dorset Police in securing the area.

“The Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force between them will provide up to 13,500 personnel. Up to 7,500 of them will support the smooth running of Olympic sites, while the remainder will use their specialist capabilities and equipment to contribute to the delivery of Olympic security.”

Last year the Home Office released its Audit and Review of Olympic & Paralympic Safety and Security Planning report, which was a comprehensive evaluation of security preparedness measures at the Games. Among its key conclusions was that more needed to be done in the cyber domain.

“The need for a strengthened approach in mitigating the risks of cyber threats was identified. Cyber threats may come from a number of sources,” the report said.

David Cameron drew his line in the sand on the issue when he allocated £650 million to increase the UK’s cyber resilience and security infrastructure shortly after becoming PM. Following this the government also released its Cyber Security Strategy, which details the safeguards required to ensure the country’s cyber networks are secured against potential digital threats, putting it on a par with physical attacks for the first time . The strategy followed the Foreign Office’s London Conference on Cyberspace in November.

Rosemont is encouraged by the government’s work in this area, saying that “to their credit … there has been a greater emphasis towards improving the country’s cyber security infrastructure” since coming into office in 2010.

“So, while the UK’s cyber security strategy is emerging and evolving quite radically anyway,” Rosemont says, “there are specific systems that will also be required for the Games,” as identified in the Home Office’s Audit and Review.

Keeping a balanced budget in check while attempting to deliver a robust security strategy is probably as challenging as it sounds. A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, ‘Preparations for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games’, released last month, aired concerns over the climbing security spend.

“The cost of venue security has nearly doubled in the past year, from £282 million to £553 million. Despite significantly increasing the business for its security contractor, there is no evidence of LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) securing any price advantage when renegotiating the contract.”

But maybe that £553 million figure should be put into perspective. According to the Audit and Review, this summer will see “the biggest peacetime security operation ever undertaken in the UK.”

Although more needs to be done, the Audit and Review concluded that: “the Safety and Security Strategy remains on track and the work done to date has established an effective base for Games safety and security operations.”

In the final analysis the government has tackled the security issue with aplomb so far; however, Lord Moynihan, Chairman of the British Olympic Association, conveyed his ‘single idiot’ theory this weekafter seeing the Oxford Cambridge boat race interrupted by a protester at the weekend.

“It just takes, and is likely to be, one idiot,” Lord Moynihan said. “It’s not likely to be a well-orchestrated campaign through Twitter or websites. Every conceivable scenario is being reviewed. I’m confident no more can be done.

“You can never get it perfect unless you remove the crowds and nobody is going to dream of doing anything like that.”

And after all, as Rosemont told me quoting the government line, “the Olympics is not a security event; it’s a sporting event with a security overlay.”

 

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