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Olympic legacy

Despite best intentions, a lasting security legacy from the 2012 Games is not so clear-cut as organisers might wish, believes Roger Ings of Strings Security.

The scale of the security operation around this summer’s London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is vast and will operate at many venues at numerous levels of complexity and visibility. Some 34 venues around the UK are involved and security will be relevant at all of them, as it will at the myriad parallel events planned, such as street parties, big-screen events and local festivals, which a government report issued late last year identified as being at particular risk from terrorism. The logistical challenge is ‘enormous’, warns David Evans, Project Director for 2012 at the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), with staff recruitment especially so. If that wasn’t enough, the government is raising questions about the size of the security bill and why early figures released now seem so wide of the mark. Although venues and infrastructure were “on track” to be delivered on time and within budget, the £9.3bn public sector funding package was “close to being used up”, a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee noted recently, to the point where it was “concerned” about whether the running of the Games would be held within budget.

And the committee also wants “clarity” on who will be accountable for delivering the Games legacy, as at present responsibilities are scattered among many aspects of government. Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “This rings alarm bells about the effective integration of the various legacy plans and about clear accountability to us and the taxpayer.” While one can but conjecture at some of the reasons, it doesn’t surprise me that the security budget has swollen – with factors such as inflation (rising significantly in recent years) additional costs (steeply rising fuel and delivery prices), manpower and more complex, sophisticated monitoring and surveillance equipment becoming available. To a large extent it was always going to be the proverbial `finger in the air` at the initial planning stages. The nitty-gritty of planning only really gathers momentum in the two years before the event as initial plans are scrutinised, tested and constantly amended to cater for shortfalls or changes in circumstances or requirements.

So, what can be the security legacy of the Games? Given the huge and urgent demand for training personnel, the levels of basic awareness and knowledge of security staff will certainly rise. That was certainly true in Beijing for the 2008 Games. Training relies on identification of the threat and reaction to it and, as threat levels rise, so does the degree of training required. Although threat levels generally have reduced over the past few months, the starting point of an event of this scale is far higher than usual and, as the spectre of new terror weapons such as capsule bombs and new explosive mixtures loom, will continue to rise. Although refresher training will almost certainly be needed going forward as technology, equipment and methods progress, post London 2012, that knowledge and understanding of the demands of a sporting event of such sprawling size, will help us prepare for the demands of other events in the years ahead, such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and world championships in a variety of sports – should Britain bid successfully to stage them. The permanent aspects of security – CCTV, access control, perimeter fencing and so on – should continue for some years yet without needing to be upgraded on a major scale. Building such measures in from new is certainly cheaper than retrofitting, while their ongoing operational costs will to some extent have been budgeted for.

Ministers visited the Dorney Lake rowing centre in Berkshire recently to learn about the security programme there, which, along with other open venues such as the sailing centre in Weymouth, present special challenges. Some 30,000 spectators will throng the rowing site daily, with 3,500 staff and volunteers. In its day-to-day guise of the Eton College Rowing Centre, Dorney Lake hosts major international rowing events and corporate functions throughout the year. The 450-acre parkland setting will be tricky to secure but some of the measures put in place should offer lasting protection for this sensitive site.

The security industry is constantly `climbing a ladder` when addressing counter terrorism. As the terrorist climbs up to the next rung, we also have to step up to combat the latest threat. The emergence of explosive liquids such as TATP and HMTD opened up the opportunities for in-flight terrorist atrocities, and from that arose the restrictions on hand luggage bottles and the search rigours now commonplace at airports. After operational reliability issues with early liquid detectors, credible technology is now available. Explosive detection equipment evolves continually to combat new and exotic substances and the methods the security sector bring into play to deploy them also adapts to suit the changing terror environment.

Once reliant on IMS (Ion Mobility Spectrometry) based technology, we have moved into the realm of Raman spectroscopy to detect ever tinier traces of explosives. Modern analysers can detect and identify more than 40 substances in just a few seconds with some now at stand-off distances, enhancing safety for the operator. Terahertz imaging using millimetric wave technology detects anomalies such as objects concealed under clothing to add another level of penetrative power to scanning systems operating at checkpoints such as airport, rail termini and ports. But such systems are merely screening tools and others will come along soon enough but what they pick up has to be dealt with and it’s the methods security personnel adopt to do this that marks the continuing legacy from events such as London 2012. The important point to note is that we cannot underplay the value of deterrence in combating security threats. Any terrorist worth their salt will check out an intended venue first, asking `Can I smuggle in a device through here`. The more layers of difficulty we present to prevent the answer `Yes`, the more powerful the legacy.


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