Let the games commence

Without doubt the country's most anticipated sporting event is finally upon us. Much planning has gone into making this a safe and successful Olympic Games. Trevor Morton looks at the possibility of everything going off without a hitch

The ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame that marks the start of the London games is set to be a telling moment for everyone who has contributed to the event. To be watched by 80,000 spectators in the stadium and a viewing audience expected to exceed the 4.3 billion across 220 counties that switched-on for Beijing 2008, the London Olympiad will expose UK Plc like never before.

The opening ceremony, the ensuing 16 days of Games, followed by the Paralympic Games, will continue to 9 September. It will present the largest broadcast event in history feeding video, images and data to TVs, personal computers, phones, tablets, and the printed media worldwide. With all its excitement and spectacle, the event is set to carry the UK’s reputation for many years to come. Whilst Beijing 2008 saw relatively few incidents that might compromise the host nation, for an open society with open borders such as the UK, opportunities abound for fringe groups to emerge from the crowds and attempt to disrupt proceedings. Events at the 23 locations around the country producing over 5,000 hours of broadcast media coverage offer a stage for causes ranging from the benign to outright terrorism on a grand scale. So what is the risk and can we cope?

Many recall the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics when the Black September Organization, a Palestinian paramilitary group, seized the media spotlight and then proceeded to murder 17 Israelis and one German. By the measure of current day terrorist atrocities, this might appear small fry, but the repeat of such an event, irrespective of scale, is unimaginable.

The incident at the 2012 Boat Race by an Australian activist who swam in the River Thames amongst the boats brings into focus the security challenge for London 2012. A public event, it was unconstrained by ticketing and turnstiles, leaving Trenton Oldfield to disrupt the University boat race between Oxford and Cambridge garnering worldwide attention to his ‘anti-elitism’ manifesto. In doing so, he angered much of the estimated 8 million television viewers as well as the teams themselves. The event was distressing and, in some cases, traumatic to the sportsmen concerned, but Oldfield was unharmed by the incident. For the lead sponsor of the event, Xchanging, Oldfield may have cast a shadow over their five-year involvement. For the Olympiad, sponsorship revenues expected to raise more than £700 million of the estimated £11 billion bill for staging London 2012. Oldfield’s actions are nothing short of a ‘heads-up’ to the civilian, police and military security machine that is already making its presence felt.

Whilst the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism is well defined and published in summary level detail by the Home Office, the specifics for policing London 2012 by necessity remain classified. The spectrum of threats at the forthcoming games is broad ranging from an opportunistic repeats of last year’s riots, opportunistic criminality, to action by groups such as Occupy movement. More determined and overtly murderous factions rooted in al-Qaeda, smarting from the assassination of Ben Laden only 12 months ago, may be in the wings. The full extent of the security plans may remain secret for years to come. Nor will we ever know the true extent of the coalition of national security services and foreign agencies that are said to be cooperatively acting to prevent a repeat of Munich 1972. The influx of an estimated 330,000 international visitors to the London 2012 Olympic Games creates a significant opportunity for criminals and terrorists if the reports are true.

The most apparent visitor management and security at the Games will be provided by some 10,000 temporary staff recruited and trained for the event by G4S. The workforce will be tasked with securing the Games alongside the police and local authorities across all London 2012 competition and non-competition venues. With 70 per cent of the Games taking place in London, even with G4S, the Met will be stretched. Some 5,000 personnel Army personnel will support the police and other civil authorities with specialist capabilities including explosive ordnance disposal teams, military working dogs and Royal Navy support to maritime policing. A further 1,000-strong unarmed contingency force is on hand in the event of an Olympics-related civil emergency.

For the first time, little or no secret is being made of the presence of Special Forces. SAS and SBS who will likely deploy covertly to act in a contingency role, should the need arise. The very announcement of their presence is testimony to the extent of the countermeasures available to secure the Games. They very presence is a warning to any potential aggressors. Not so covert was the arrival of the Royal Navy’s largest warship, HMS Ocean on 4 May. The crew of Ocean wasted no time in showing-off their readiness to provide tactical air support across the skies of East London; the ships’ electronic-counter-measures are able to address the risk of any airborne assault. Portland, a hundred miles west is the largest Olympic and Paralympic venue outside of London; HMS Bulwark will be deployed there as part of the security for the Olympic sailing events for 2012. Collaboration between military and civilian forces, once unheard of, will see Dorset Police use an amphibious assault ship as the police command base during sailing events.

LOCOG made clear its mission to work with the government and the police ‘to deliver safe and secure Games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy’. The challenge for the security operation will be to deliver it in such a way that it can deal with any contingency without compromising the enjoyment of those attending any of the 17 venues. However, many will question the headline grabbing deployment of surface-to-air missiles, un-manned drones, and Typhoon jet fighters only minutes away at RAF Northolt. Are they likely to be an effective counter measure or are they a red flag to any terrorist cells and their would-be plotters? The principal venue of the 2012 Olympics is set to enjoy physical security unprecedented in nature and scale. Going west from the Olympic venues to Canary Wharf, the City, then Central London and Greater London, security is set to be ‘proportional’ based on extensive risk assessments by agencies including LOCOG, TfL, City of London and Westminster City councils.

Information security experts are concerned with the vulnerability of the Games to sustained attacks from by cyber-terrorists such as increasingly sophisticated criminals, terrorists or the growing hacktivist ‘lobby’. An attack on the Olympic Media centre, transport infrastructure, or payment systems could be debilitating, invoke panic and produce knock-on effects to businesses across the region. As Games fever is rising, so too do the reported incidents of fraudulent ticketing and merchandising sites.

The business district most likely to be affected by London 2012 is the iconic Canary Wharf business its shopping district. “Canary Wharf will be open for business,” says Howard Dawber, Strategic Advisor for Canary Wharf Group. The group, which owns and manages Canary Wharf, has been working closely with TfL and Canary Wharf-based companies to prepare plans which are being rolled out in the coming months. “We have applied the same focus and attention to detail that we use designing and constructing the world’s best buildings into our transport plans. The 2012 Games will shine a positive spotlight on the amazing progress made in inner East London in the last few years. The plans will ensure that offices, shops, bars and restaurants will continue to be staffed,” says Dawber.

Canary Wharf Group expects a 25 per cent drop off in the usual peak time public transport commuter numbers during the Games. This, in combination with the transport initiatives in place, means that only a small number of evening rush hours (Friday 3 August and Monday 6 to Thursday 9 August) at Canary Wharf Station are likely to face significant disruption during the Games, with waits of longer than half an hour if not enough people change their travel behaviour. Canary Wharf commuters are being encouraged, where possible, to avoid the rush hours during Games time, particularly at key stations such as London Bridge. Canary Wharf Group and TfL are offering individuals and companies assistance with transport planning during Games time, and spectators heading to and from the Olympic Park, which will have the best transport connections in Games history, will be encouraged to use transport other than the Jubilee line where possible.

Come Friday 27 July, the world is set to see the spectacular result of an investment in the London 2012 Olympics. For many there will be sheer joy and relief that the country will demonstrate that it can deliver on complex, large-scale projects and programmes on time. For those behind the scenes the spectacle of the grand opening will be a moment to reflect on the intensity of preparations for the event that, since the moment of winning the bid in July 2005, have become a marathon in their own right. On paper, risks to the event, its visitors, and the UK as a whole appear to be locked down and addressed. Indications too are that a good number of organisations have made some form of preparedness and are planning for continuity of service. With luck, and good weather, let’s hope the worst logistical risk is collecting up the medals at London 2012.

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