Olympics security requires an olympian effort (Part 2)
Last week I shared a few insights concerning what it takes to ensure the safety of spectators and athletes at an Olympic Games, as the London Olympiad begins this week. Today, I'd like to offer a few specifics.
There are four distinct phases that occur during public-safety planning for an Olympics. There is the initial planning phase, a transition or operational training phase, operations, and recovery. Planning will occur over many years, while the transition phase starts at least 18 months before the games begin. Operations typically last 60-90 days to cover the immediate ramp up; the staging of the events; the transition of venues from the Olympics to the Paralympics; the staging of the Paralympics; and then recovery.
While the Paralympics put very little stress on law enforcement and traffic, they usually require a similar level of fire and emergency medical support — albeit at a smaller number of venues — compared with the Olympics. There will be a significant ramp down for the Paralympics, but this event still requires coordinated support.
The Olympics present a significantly bigger counter-terrorism challenge than the everyday concert or special event. It is far different even than a mega sporting event such as the Super Bowl. It would be more accurate to compare the Olympiad to a Super Bowl held in the morning, afternoon and evening for 19 consecutive days, in 10 different locations around the host country — with a few protests, motorcades and a great many dignitaries tossed in for good measure. More than 11 million tickets are available for sanctioned events and many additional events scheduled by local cities and communities around the venues.
The games also bring a lot of side shows that add a degree of difficulty to the challenge of protecting athletes and officials. For instance, there are numerous free events not associated with the competition — e.g., Britain is providing more than 10 million free tickets for 1,000-plus festival events. In addition, there will be free "Live Site" venues for 500,000 people every day at 22 permanent sites, and there will be an additional 47 large viewing screens scattered across the country.
These are among the most fun things to do for the local community and cost nothing to attend, and they will become packed with enthusiastic Brits cheering on their countrymen. But each of these events and venues presents a target for crime, and as such become the responsibility of local police, fire and emergency services organizations. This support is above and beyond the normal venue support provided by public safety.
Indeed, these ancillary events and venues present a unique problem for law enforcement and other public-safety agencies during the games. If you think back to the 1996 Olympiad in Atlanta, you probably remember the Centennial Park bombing. It is sad that one of the most vibrant memories from those games was a small, improvised explosive device detonated in a public park that served as a live site for a free event that was outside a secure official Olympic venue. But this is the danger.
The events that led to the bombing included a phone call from a pay phone a motel to emergency dispatchers saying, "There is a bomb in Centennial Park; you have 30 minutes." The transcript from that 911 call quoted the dispatcher as follows: "But I need the address of Centennial Park. It's not taking, the system is not taking Centennial Park, that's not where it came from, but you know the system is not taking Centennial Park, that's where he said the bomb was. Ooh, it's going to be gone off by the time we find the address."
Dispatchers tried to call the police agency's command center, but received a busy signal. They then argued and fumbled over where Centennial Park was, because it was not listed by that name in their computer-aided dispatch system. That is because the physical address was actually 145 International Boulevard in Atlanta, while Centennial Park was a new name for a new park that had been created for the games. This greatly delayed quick notifications to public-safety commanders in the field.
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@example.com.