London 2012: Protecting the Olympic Games

With planning and construction for the London 2012 Olympic Games now well under way, measures to counter terrorist attacks are being factored into all preparations to protect the millions of visiting spectators, the Olympic Village inhabitants, Games officials, and the travelling public during the world’s most high-profile sporting event.

Since the terrorist atrocities at the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which 11 Israeli athletes and one police officer were killed by Palestinian terrorists, all major sporting events attracting large numbers of people have been regarded as high-level terrorist targets requiring attendant increases in security measures and police presence. The most relevant terrorist outrage in the United Kingdom providing lessons for future events involving crowded situations was the July 7, 2005, bombings of the London transit system, in which 53 people died, and over 700 were injured, in four simultaneous attacks.

This, the worst terrorist attack on British territory, took place the day after the capital celebrated winning the 2012 bid for the Olympics and, sadly, emphasized the security challenges that lay ahead.

Other tragic non-terrorist events have provided lessons to be learned in how to steward spectator crowds, house them safely, and manage crowd incidents. Britain’s worst sporting disaster – the crushing to death of 96 Liverpool Football Club supporters at the Hillsborough soccer stadium on 15 April 1989 – resulted in new multimillion-pound safety measures: all-seater stadia throughout Britain; and stricter controls on crowds entering the venues.

The latter measure was needed to prevent a repeat of the appalling event, which occurred when local police allowed too many Liverpool fans into the back of an already full stand. But even with all-seater stadia, should a terrorist incident – a chemical release, for example – occur, the stampede effect might still prove lethal.

The 2012 CBRNE Threat to London 

The most likely threats security chiefs are preparing for at the London 2012 Olympic Games are improvised chemical devices (ICDs), the dispersal of chemical or biological agents, and radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) – as well as the more prevalent terrorist means of mayhem: suicide bombers carrying explosives, vehicle-borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and either airborne or mortar attacks (or both). Managers of military support units for first-responder services as well as emergency services and other security personnel are putting measures into place for London 2012, including detection, protection, and surveillance systems and exercises.

Several other terrorist scares have occurred in England in recent years – e.g., the feared targeting in 2004 of the Old Trafford soccer stadium in Manchester. The attempted car bomb attacks in London in June 2007 resulted in enhanced readiness against the possible targeting of events taking place simultaneously, such as the Wimbledon Tennis championships. The authorities also have to factor in threats from environmental protest groups and organized crime.

Likely scenarios will be outlined to examine how an incident would unfold, working through realistic casualty rates and how to deal with casualties; how first-responders are briefed and trained up for such events; how to manage responses to a CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives) event, including evacuation measures, the decontamination of persons and locations, forensics and monitoring; the role of the media in covering an incident at such well-publicized events; and how much the public should be told in advance of the event about the countermeasures in place – and how they would be informed during the unfolding of an attack.

The Protection of Spectators 

To counter CBR threats, fast detection and identification of the toxic materials released are required. Decisions on medical attendance and decontamination procedures would have to be made speedily to ensure that casualties are treated and panic is avoided. Spectators should be unaware, in fact, that detection equipment has been deployed so as to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Therefore, a CBRN security plan should work in the background, so that visitors are able to enjoy the event without disturbance or alarm. The most difficult challenge, probably, is achieving a balance between security concerns and ensuring that spectators can enjoy a friendly and open atmosphere – in contrast to the rigid controls applied at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The London 2012 security operation is expected to be the largest ever in peacetime Britain. With security costs estimated at £838 million, it was reported as early as September 2008 that the overall Olympics budget is expected to exceed £10 billion – after the government had promised a maximum of £9.3 billion – because officials had “vastly underestimated” the cost of protecting the event from terrorism. However, the original £600 million figure was based on the costs of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, before the 9/11 2001 attacks against the United States and the 2005 London bombings.

The British Army will be drafted in as civil support to help protect the thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators from an atrocity. Military helicopters as well as unmanned military air platforms – such as those used to monitor and sometimes attack the Taliban in Afghanistan – will patrol overhead, and jets will be on standby to intercept any suspect private plane heading for the main Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London. A database of aerial photographs, maps, and 3D views of all Olympic venues will incorporate new technology that enables 3D images to be spun through an arc of 360 degrees – pinpointing exits, meeting points, and fire hydrants, and allowing the simulation of major incident scenarios.

In addition to police from Scotland Yard and other forces, tens of thousands of volunteers will be drafted in to check the bags and tickets of incoming spectators. This will require the vetting on a large scale of some 200,000 people working at various venues. Blast mitigation to minimize the effect of bomb explosions is a vital aspect of the ongoing construction of the stadia and other prime buildings, which will incorporate blast-proof material and shatter-proof glass. Some events also will be staged in other areas of London – bike races, free-running, abseiling, kayaking, and mountain biking over a 50-km. course – and officials want the 2012 experience to be extended to street parties similar to those held in Sydney at the turn of the millennium.

Learning from London 7/7 

The London transport network is expected to carry 240,000 passengers an hour during the Games. Extra officers will be needed to identify suspected bombers. Security preparations will be augmented by the lessons learned not only from the successful July 2005 attacks but also from the attempted attacks later that month. Here, it should be noted that by no means did these lessons detract from the many acts of bravery by the emergency services, voluntary organizations, and members of the public during and after the attacks. Nevertheless, shortcomings of preparation, response, and the support provided to survivors were exposed.

The problems recognized in getting enough equipment and medical supplies to several sites have been addressed by the distribution of radio pagers to transit managers. In addition, the incident-control room has been reconfigured to allow for the possibility of multiple simultaneous attacks – the sheer scale of which created considerable confusion on 7/7, stretched supplies, and put unprecedented pressure on an outdated communications system. In fact, landline and mobile telephone communications were near impossible during the first two hours after the attacks; 45,000 calls came to the police Casualty Bureau phone line alone, and there was little information available from the incident scenes. Sir Ken Knight, the Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, said it was a single hand-held radio at King’s Cross subway station, not the entire system, that was faulty.

Comms operators had to manage the high number of calls placed on both the fixed and mobile networks to prevent them from grinding to a halt on 7/7 – a situation that, although not unprecedented, led to considerable distress when people caught up in the incidents could not contact one another. New dedicated digital radio systems are now in use, although cell phones continue to be used for multi-agency communication, particularly by senior officers. The cell phone networks’ privileged access scheme is invoked only under very special circumstances on request by Police Gold commanders and then only for a specific network, within a limited geographic area, and for the shortest possible period of time.

Another post-7/7 improvement is a new digital radio system that has been designed to connect all London Underground staff on a single radio network. In addition: (a) A purpose-built coordination center for local and regional responders now operates alongside the dedicated Gold command centers directing responder operations; and (b) The Metropolitan Police have pre-agreed arrangements in place to manage and coordinate a response to a pan-London incident.

Dealing With the Media 

Of prime importance in 2012 will be the ability to supply timely and accurate information to the 24-hour news media to minimize panic and advise the public. The failure to establish reception centers for victims and worried families and friends to go to in the hours following the 7/7 attacks added to the overall response problems encountered at that time. In addition, detailed information was not collected from some of those caught up in the explosions so that they could be put in touch with sources of information, advice, support, and counseling. Many survivors were left with no access to information – almost as if the explosions had involved chemical agents – and no practical support to help them cope.

To address this issue, new procedures, systems, and training programs have been put in place, including mutual-aid telephone protocols between police units to enable the Police Casualty Bureau to handle more calls than was possible on 7/7, as well as recorded messages for the public, which will enable the bureau to focus on gathering information about missing persons.

Germany 2006: The Gold Standard for Chemical Readiness 

Recent high-profile sporting events in other countries have generated equally high levels of protection. The successful staging by Germany of the 2006 FIFA Soccer World Cup Finals, and the measures taken by that country to enhance security, detection, and surveillance are regarded as excellent examples of organization and anti-terrorist prevention.

Preemption was paramount – suspects were identified when crossing the border or even well before coming to Germany. NATO AWACS surveillance planes monitored German airspace to guard against airborne attacks. Strategies to promote effective communication were deemed successful, with liaison officers from federal and state agencies – including European police forces, the armed forces, and fire departments – designated to ease the exchange of information. The Bundeswehr was on standby for emergency situations with decontamination units.

The chemical-surveillance plan introduced a multi-layer concept (developed in close collaboration between Bruker Detection and the blue-light services). Among the equipment provided under the plan were infrared stand-off detectors for toxic clouds of gas, hand-held ion mobility spectrometers, and mobile gas chromatograph/mass spectrometers (GC/MS) designed (through the use of complementary sampling techniques) to identify any organic chemical from the soil, water, and air within 15 minutes.

These detectors provided detailed information content as well as on-site support and scientific management. Systems were integrated on vehicles or networks of chemical and biological detectors. Training and operations were reduced to the lowest possible level, and the detectors were installed in a standby mode, invisible to the audience. Finally, the monitoring of the stadia where the finals were played commenced four hours before the games began and was continued not only throughout the games but, in addition, for two more hours after they ended.

In addition, reconnaissance teams were in standby position, out of sight of the crowd but in communication with the command center inside the stadium. Mobile detectors were installed on a fire engine. Had an emergency occurred, it is claimed, the reconnaissance teams would have been able to reach every position inside the stadium within minutes, with samples analyzed and clearly identified within 10 to 15 minutes – as long a period as could be tolerated if the correct decisions regarding decontamination procedures and medical treatment can be made. Finally, firefighters stationed within the command center were able to check the located cloud positions via binoculars and, of prime importance, observe the behavior of the people inside or near a located cloud.

Andy Oppenheimer

Andy  Oppenheimer is an independent UK-based CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives) consultant and former editor of Jane’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence. His book (IRA: The Bombs and the Bullets – A History of Deadly Ingenuity) was published in November 2008 by the Irish Academic Press.



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