Public safety at an Olympics is quite a challenge (Part 1)
As London prepares for the world's largest sporting spectacle, there will be an important mission unfolding behind the scenes that is bigger than anyone can imagine. I have been a part of the massive public-safety preparations and operations for past Olympic Games, and the amount of coordination and cooperation necessary to make them a success is amazing. The days left until July 27 will fly by so quickly for the responsible public-safety commanders that they barely will have time to breathe.
Traditionally, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services always find a way to work with each other on a daily basis, even if they do not always train, practice, prepare and plan together. However, there are numerous issues — such as who is in charge — that rise to the surface when planning for such an event as massive as the Olympics.
The key to making public safety for the Olympics a success is to agree to use an incident command system and to have clear lines of scope, jurisdiction and authority between all agencies involved. There needs to be one person in charge of the overall operation. For London, this has been done, and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison is the national security coordinator for the London 2012 Games. This gives the International Olympic Committee one point of contact for all law enforcement related to the games.
It is critical for all public-safety agencies to plan together, train together and work through all test events together. It also is critical to co-locate all public-safety planning personnel — for example, police, fire and emergency medical services; public works; and emergency management — in one joint planning office. This allows for formal and informal communications during all phases of planning.
Sometimes, we get too focused on just law enforcement and do not put enough focus on fire planning and responses, as well as emergency medical services. Without them, most large gatherings would not even be permitted to occur, and many sporting events could not even take place without an ambulance nearby. Mass gatherings of the size and scope of the Olympics put an amazing stress on the police, fire and emergency medical personnel who still will have to respond to everyday emergencies in the community while supporting the enormous additional needs created by the Olympics.
The games present a unique challenge. On the one hand, we have a lot of time and, typically, a significant amount of resources at our disposal to deal with this international event. I like to think we can plan for the Olympics similar to how we plan for a flood, or a tornado, or an earthquake.
But the difference with this event is that we have more than seven years to plan for it, we know exactly the day it will arrive in town, how long it will last each day, and how many days it will go on. We even know exactly what communities will be affected. Therefore, we should not have any problems planning for its effects.
Unfortunately, the public-safety community is filled with personnel who are amazingly good at responding to disasters, but they usually are not as well-trained or experienced in terms of planning for seven years for an event of this magnitude. In my own experience, it took being assigned full time and learning to hire key consultants with previous public-safety experience at major events to educate me — an experienced public-safety official — on how to plan for a massive event that was years away, and how to get the job done on time and on budget.
For example, one of the great lessons I learned from Buryl Dooley — a retired Army colonel who worked on multiple Olympic Games planning aviation and air Security — was that all planning, budgeting and game-time preparations must be in motion at least one year before an Olympics, or it will not get done. This still holds true today.
TJ Kennedy is Raytheon's director of public safety and security. He held multiple leadership positions for the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. He can be reached at [email protected].